"For more than fifty years, there has been a C-130 flying over Abilene. With this delivery, we continue a great legacy fostered by many generations of maintainers and operators,” said US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz at the 16 April 2010 arrival ceremony for the 317th Airlift Group’s first C-130J at Dyess AFB, Texas.
Schwartz, who flew the new C-130J to the ceremony, is the first chief of staff to have spent much of his flying career in the Hercules. After he taxied in, the Airmen of the 317th—as well as the numerous civic and government leaders in the crowd of more than 600 people—broke into spontaneous applause. The arrival of the first Super Hercules at the base in Abilene had been an eagerly anticipated event.
The 317th AG, a tenant unit to the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess, currently operates thirty-three 1970s-vintage C-130Hs. Most of those aircraft and a significant amount of the group’s aircrew and maintainers are usually deployed at any given time for operations in Kuwait and Afghanistan.
The first C-130J, nicknamed Pride of Abilene, is the first of twenty-eight longer fuselage Super Hercules that will be delivered to the group’s two flying squadrons through early 2013. When all the aircraft are delivered, the 317th AG will be the largest C-130J operator in the world.
The 40th Airlift Squadron, known as the Screaming Eagles, will convert to the C-130J first, followed by its sister unit, the 39th AS. “One of our group commander’s directives was that we have no loss of capability while we transition to the C-130J,” said Lt. Col. Keith Green, commander of the 40th AS. “We are not standing down, so that helps us keep our focus. We have to maintain our ops tempo with C-130H deployments and ramp up with the J-model at the same time. We will have to manage our aircraft and our Airmen well.”
Complicating the transition is the aircraft delivery schedule. The 40th AS received one C-130J in April and isn’t scheduled to receive its second Super Hercules until late September or early October. “It is very hard to get and keep crews qualified with only one aircraft,” notes Green. “So we found a partner to help us.”
Twice a month, the 41st AS, the Air Mobility Command C-130J squadron at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, sends a crew and aircraft to Dyess for a couple of days. “The Little Rock crew gets a chance to fly out of their local area. We interfly with them to gain additional experience and to give our C-130J copilots flight time,” says Maj. Jeff Brown, one of the initial group of C-130J instructor pilots assigned to the Screaming Eagles.
Additionally, instructor and evaluator pilots from the 40th AS regularly fly with the Little Rock squadron and often deploy with that unit. “Our partnership with the 41st will give us a solid cadre of C-130J instructors as we ramp up,” notes Green. The Dyess squadron is scheduled to have five aircraft on its ramp by the end of 2010 and is expected to achieve initial operational capability with the C-130J by mid 2011.
The two C-130 flying squadrons at Dyess are across the hall from each other in a facility built in 2006 that is shared with the group’s lone aircraft maintenance unit. The process of converting to the Super Hercules was under way in the maintenance shops well before the first aircraft arrived.
“We have received almost all of our initial spares, bench stock, and test equipment, and we are just starting to build up our skills,” observed SMSgt. Rodney Jones, the 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support flight superintendent. “We will have separate sections for the H-model and the J-model at first. We will have some maintainers dual qualified for both the C-130H and the C-130J, but we are trying not to dual-qualify our people in avionics and propulsion. Those areas are different enough between the aircraft that a level of specialization is required.”
To support the C-130J, renovations on the group’s existing isochronal maintenance dock are now under way. The hangar, built in 1952, will look considerably different by mid 2011. The facility will have everything from a new fire suppression system in the ceiling, to new offices and a controlled tool crib on the floor, to new tow lines painted on the ramp. “We can’t put two C-130Js in the hangar tail to tail,” says SMSgt. Shawn Bustillos, the 317th AMS flight chief. “We can fit two J-models inside if we offset the aircraft by ten feet and put the tails next to one another. To do that easily, we’ll need new yellow lines.”
Ground was broken for a new 70,000-square-foot double-bay fuel cell maintenance hangar in late 2009. This facility, which can accommodate either two C-130Js or one C-130J and one of the 7th BW’s B-1B bombers, is expected to open by late 2011.
“Our C-130J simulator is late to need,” notes Green. “We’ll have the J-model operational for two years before we get our own simulator. In the meantime, we have contracted for simulator time at both Little Rock and at Keesler [AFB, Mississippi]. We’ll manage.”
“The first C-130 arrived at Dyess on 8 February 1961,” said Col. Dan Dagher, the 317th AG commander, at the delivery ceremony. “But today marks a new day. The arrival of this C-130J strengthens the 317th, Air Mobility Command, and the US Air Force. We’re going to put this aircraft to the test.”