By Col. Steve Eggensperger
189th Airlift Wing commander
If you’ve found yourself asking this question over the last few years, you’re not alone. There have been lots of changes that have affected the entire “Herk” community so let me try to explain the logic behind some of the seemingly whiplash changes you’ve seen. Read on …
But first a little background. The 189th Airlift Wing has been the Air National Guard portion of the Total Force Formal Training Unit for more than 27 years now. We first started training students in the C-130 in 1986 and taught Initial Qualification training only for the first 12 years. By 1998 we had amassed a very experienced cadre of C-130 instructors with both FTU and worldwide tactical airlift experience so it made perfect sense to transition the 189 AW into the Instructor School training mission. That mission continues to be our primary flying mission and our operators and maintainers are focused on the FTU and student production on a daily basis. The rest of the wing supports the training mission but also provides expeditionary combat support so their primary mission focus is deployment preparation and combat readiness.
In 2004 the Air Force began studying an upgraded C-130 cockpit design which would eventually be called the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program. This avionics upgrade would retrofit the cockpits of the older C-130s giving them increased navigational precision and increased reliability and bring them into the age of the modern “glass cockpit.” (A term which refers to flight instrumentation being displayed on computer screens rather than the old individual round gauges.) In 2007 the 189 AW was chosen as the “lead unit” for the program and to eventually stand up the AMP FTU to provide training to all crew positions of AMP flyers. The AMP crew complement is two pilots, a flight engineer, and a loadmaster (no navigator). Our pilots and flight engineers selected as the “AMP Initial Cadre” were involved in design testing and flew on the initial test missions with the 418th Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
The AMP conversion syllabus was significant and was almost like learning to fly a completely different airplane. The pilot conversion course to teach a currently qualified C-130 pilot to be an AMP pilot, for example, was almost two months long. So as over 220 aircraft in the C-130 legacy fleet were to be upgraded, the 189 AW would simultaneously be training the crews to be qualified to fly their newly converted aircraft when they returned to their home unit. That was a significant amount of conversion training planned to take place at Little Rock AFB between 2012 and about 2020. And keep in mind that conversion training is in addition to the ongoing initial qualification, mission qualification, and instructor training taking place every day here at The Rock.
Meanwhile, as the Air Mobility Command tactical airlifters saw their deployments increase and their home station time decrease there was an obvious need for additional active duty crews to share in the deployment burden. This fact spawned the initiative in 2010 to bring a new Air Force Reserve unit to Little Rock AFB to partner with the 189 AW so that the active duty trainers in the 62nd Airlift Squadron could be reassigned to other AMC units. This initiative would significantly reduce the active duty footprint in the legacy FTU as the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves (together referred to as the “Air Reserve Component” or “ARC”) would form an ARC Association to take over the flight line portion of the legacy training (which would of course eventually become AMP training as the fleet was converted). That was the grand
The 189th AW spent most of 2011 preparing to host the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation phase of the AMP program. IOT&E was to begin in January 2012 but due to financial constraints the program was placed on hold only days before the IOT&E flying phase was to begin. AMP answers valid needs in the legacy airplanes, however, the program is expensive and therefore drew close scrutiny when there was a need to cut budgets. Today, the program remains on hold pending a final congressional funding decision.
Meanwhile, the legacy FTU training must continue despite budget and AMP uncertainty because the students never stop showing up for training. But with the uncertainty of AMP conversion training there is no longer a need for such the robust FTU as originally envisioned when the decision was made in 2010 to create the ARC Association. Today the FTU stands at a crossroads. The current Air Force proposal is to cancel AMP and increase the size of the 189th AW by four aircraft to allow the ANG to take a greater role in the FTU with a goal of the 189th AW eventually taking over the entire flying portion of the legacy training program. But this will not happen overnight and the 314th Airlift Wing and AFRC Detachment 1 will likely be involved in legacy flying training for a few more years.
Yes, that’s a lot of change in a short period of time. But there are a lot of things that remain constant here at The Rock. Team Little Rock was Total Force before Total Force was cool. The Guard and the active duty have been working hand-in-hand here for years and although we are not a formal association the three wings here function together in some ways more efficiently than units that are involved in a formal Total Force Initiative association. The 19 AW provides an exceptional level of host base support to all the various units and components represented in Team Little Rock. Years of working side by side with the 314th AW in pursuit of excellence in C-130 training has forged a great partnership and understanding of the strengths and limitations of each component—so we work together in a synergistic manner to provide the best possible training to our students. Our students and their gaining commands are our customers, and our objective is to provide combat units with highly qualified crewmembers and to instill in our graduates the confidence, skill, and ability to do the tactical airlift business of this great nation. So regardless of what changes lie ahead, I see Little Rock AFB as the center of the
C-130 universe and I see a strong Team Little Rock ready and able to provide all components of combat airlift. Team Little Rock = Combat Airlift!