By Airman Kevin E. Sommer Giron
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Six decades have passed since the C-130 aircraft was introduced to the United States Air Force in 1950.
The aircraft, now known as the workhorse of the U.S. Air Force, has remained the longest continuously produced military aircraft, marking it the fifth aircraft to achieve 50 years of consecutive service.
Its remarkable life span is due to its versatile design enabling it to be configured for critical U.S. military operations including combat delivery, aerial refueling, special operations, disaster relief and humanitarian missions.
Since its introduction to Little Rock Air Force base in 1970, the C-130 has been a staple within the local community.
Not only does Little Rock AFB generate and support unrivaled combat airlift across the globe, it is currently the largest C-130 base in the world and home to the C-130 Center of Excellence, an international C-130 training school.
Today, the base houses two models of the aircraft: the C-130H and the C-130J.
The C-130H is praised for its ability to accommodate a variety of oversized cargo, including everything from utility helicopters and six-wheeled armored vehicles to standard palletized cargo and military personnel. In an aerial delivery role, it can airdrop loads up to 42,000 pounds or use its high-flotation landing gear to land and deliver cargo on rough, dirt strips.
“I was fortunate enough to fly the H model in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Justin Hinrichs, 41st Airlift Squadron assistant operations officer. “The result of those deployments was the effective transport of over 5,000 personnel and 230 tons of cargo, the equivalent of 150 vehicles that didn’t have to drive the dangerous roads of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The second, and newest aircraft, to grace the flight line on base is the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.
From the outside, the difference between the two is minimal, but a defining feature is the propellers. On the H model, there are four blades on each propeller, and the J model has six blades.
Inside the aircraft there is a stark difference. The C-130H requires a minimum crew of five, with two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer and loadmaster. The modern C-130J only needs three crew members, two pilots and a loadmaster.
“The reduced crew brings with it fewer members assigned to a squadron,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Westby, 61st Airlift Squadron commander. “Yet all the jobs, additional duties, and behind the scenes responsibilities that keep an airlift squadron running are still run by Airmen that are meeting the expectations and handling their business with great energy and success.”
The upgraded C-130J incorporates state-of-the-art technology that reduces manpower requirements, lowering operating and support costs. The aircrafts improved engines enables the J model to climb faster and higher, fly farther at a higher cruise speed, and take off and land in a shorter distance. Not to mention the 15 extra feet in the fuselage, increasing 2 pallet spaces in the cargo compartment.
Since its arrival here in 2004, the C-130J has slowly supplanted the legacy H models. New additions to the fleet have continuously filtered in with the latest and last arriving by the end of June for the 19th Airlift Wing. Little Rock AFB will still receive J models for the 314th Airlift Wing in the future. The remainder of the H models on the flight line will be operated by the 189th Airlift Wing Air National Guard.
“We’re really just scratching the surface of what the J model can do operationally,” Westby said. “We will dig deeper and push the employment envelope even further; I think the 19th Airlift Wing will be on the leading edge of C-130J tactics, techniques, and procedures that will be executed by generations of Airmen to come. It’s an exciting time to be a Black Knight.”
The C-130J will provide a new era of combat capabilities for Little Rock AFB and carry on the legacy of the workhorse of the Air Force.