The Norse Goddesses

By Jeff Rhodes Posted 1 July 2009

"The sages tell us frigg was beautiful and the most powerful of the goddesses. What better attributes can one wish for in a transport aircraft? I am convinced she will serve her country in an outstanding way. It is with honor and respect i christen our first C-130J transport, frigg. I wish you and your crews a smooth and safe flight."

It took a couple of tries, but Norwegian Defence Minister Anne-Grethe Strøm-Erichsen followed tradition and shattered a bottle of champagne on the forward fuselage jack pad of the Royal Norwegian Air Force's first Super Hercules. The naming was the highlight of Norway's official welcoming ceremony for the C-130J held 25 November 2008 at Gardermoen Air Station outside Oslo.

A crowd of more than 300 people attended the ceremony, including US Ambassador to Norway Benson K. Whitney; Royal Norwegian Air Force Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Stein Nodeland; and ranking officials from the Norwegian Ministry of Defence; the Norwegian Air Force; and the US government. Aircrew, maintainers, and family members from the air station were also in the audience.

Frigg — which is pronounced Freeg — is the first of four C-130Js that will be flown by 335 Squadron, whose lineage dates back to 1946. Initially equipped with Lockheed C-60 Lodestar transports, the squadron mostly flew logistics flights within Norway. The introduction of the C-119 Flying Boxcar in 1956 allowed Norwegian Air Force crews to assist in international relief operations in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Since 1969, the squadron has flown six C-130 Super Es — basically late-model C-130Es equipped with the C-130H model's upgraded T56-A-15 turboprop engines — logging more than 132,000 hours of flight time. Impressively, this operational legacy has come without a single mishap or major incident.

Over the past four decades, 335 Squadron has supported countless Norwegian, NATO, European Union, Open Skies Treaty, Arctic and Antarctic, aeromedical airlift, and humanitarian relief missions around the world. The aircraft have also been used to support search and rescue operations as well as Norwegian Special Operations missions. But despite meticulous maintenance, the Norwegian C-130Es had reached the end of their useful service lives.

"At the end of the day, we were forced to ground the aircraft," says Oberst (Col.) Diederik Willem Kolff, commander of 135 Air Wing, the parent unit of 335 Squadron. "We couldn't fly tactical missions. We did fly some transport missions, but eventually we even had to suspend those missions, as well." The last operational mission for Norway's C-130Es came in July 2008.

New Aircraft

"We were extremely lucky to get the opportunity we did to get our C-130Js," Kolff notes. "The US Air Force essentially allowed us to jump the queue to get new aircraft. It was a tremendous help to us. Otherwise, we would not have had a transport fleet."

Delivery of the first C-130J to Gardermoen came only eighteen months after the US and Norwegian government representatives signed the contract. "My government's decisive guidelines and quick political action paved the way for this speedy and efficient procurement," Strøm-Erichsen said. "It is, in fact, quite rare that a defence minister gives the go-ahead for a project of this magnitude and gets to be in position when the order is delivered."

"The original six C-130s were named after the male gods, Odin, Tor (Thor), Balder, Frøy, Ty, and Brage," Kolff notes. "The C-130Js will be named after the wives of four of them. Frigg is the wife of Odin, according to Norwegian mythology. She's the first lady."

Frigg, the first C-130J for an international customer to be delivered under a US Foreign Military Sales program contract, was joined by Idunn (Ee-dunn), wife of Brage, in June 2009. Nanna, wife of Balder, and Siv, wife of Tor, will be delivered in early 2010.

Frigg's first official flight came after the naming ceremony, when Norwegian government and air force officials were given an orientation flight over Oslo. During the hour-long sortie, the new C-130J was accompanied by three Norwegian F-16s. One of the squadron's three remaining C-130Es was used as an aerial photography platform. At that point, two of the squadron's old aircraft had already been retired, and one had been donated to a local museum. The last of Norway's E-models was retired to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, in early 2009.

Modern Base

Originally located on the site where Oslo Airport's commercial terminal now sits, Gardermoen was moved across the runway in 1996. A completely new air station was purpose-built to support C-130 operations. "The base is only a few square kilometers in area," says Kolff, a former Dutch F-16 exchange pilot who stayed and later became a Norwegian citizen. "What you see is pretty much it. But it is very efficient."

A central building facing the flightline houses the wing and squadron offices, military passenger terminal, and a storage and maintenance facility for ground servicing equipment. The ramp is sized for six C-130s and features an underground fueling system.

Much like Frigg, who, it was said, had the gift of prophesy, the Royal Norwegian Air Force sized the four hangars at Gardermoen for the longer fuselage C-130s while the base was being designed, just in case.

The maintenance complex, just off the central building, consists of three connected, side-by-side hangars — one for checks and inspections; one for heavy maintenance, such as aircraft engine changes; and one for washing or painting aircraft — with the supply section and all necessary back shops, such as avionics, propulsion, and systems conveniently located across a common hall, all of which allow the maintainers to stay indoors during the harsh winters.

"We wanted to make it easy for maintenance to work," says Maj. Vidar Haukås, chief of aircraft maintenance at Gardermoen. "One of our main goals is efficiency. Manpower is expensive. We need low manpower and high efficiency."

The fourth hangar, which is glassed in at both ends, is for operational aircraft. "The Air Movements [aerial port] section is located right next to that hangar to make it convenient to load the cargo," notes Haukås. "An aircraft leaving on a mission will be parked and loaded in there. We don't use chemicals to deice the aircraft. Instead, the propane heaters in the hangar melt the ice and snow. There is a drain system in the floor. In two hours, the aircraft is ready to go."

Getting Ready

Preparations for the new aircraft began in earnest in 2008. "We sent our first pilots and loadmasters to the US Air Force's C-130 schoolhouse at Little Rock [AFB, Arkansas] in April of 2008," says Maj. Trond Sølna, 335 Squadron's chief of standardization/evaluation. "By the time we got the first aircraft, one-third of the squadron had finished the C-130J conversion course. We are sending crews to Italy to fly the J-model simulator there. We've had crews going to Keesler [AFB, Mississippi] to fly the simulators there as well."

335 Squadron is made up of only about fifty aircrew members, but the unit is currently assigning a pilot to fly with the Royal Danish Air Force's C-130J unit, 721 Squadron at Aalborg AB. "Our pilots get flying time and the Danes get an additional pilot," notes Kolff. "It works for both squadrons."

"When we received the first aircraft, we had twelve technicians in the US on an on-the-job-training assignment with the Rhode Island C-130J unit," adds Haukås. "We had two crew chiefs in Denmark for training with their C-130J unit. Twenty-five of our forty-five or so maintainers had already gone through training when we got our first aircraft. These are mostly the people who will be working directly on the aircraft."

"We have a lot of experienced crew members in the unit, but they are starting to retire," Sølna says. "We are getting new people in now who are starting with the J-model and getting experience. Some of our E-model navigators have gone to helicopters, and one is going to P-3s. The J doesn't need a flight engineer, so some of our current flight engineers have elected to become loadmasters or have taken other positions in other squadrons.

"The main thing we're trying to do is to make sure that we are all capable for Day One," adds Sølna, the squadron's chief pilot, who has more than 6,000 flight hours in C-130s. "We have to fly the new aircraft first and see what we can do with it. There is a question of just how much training we will need in the C-130J."

"We do need to get comfortable with this longer aircraft," Kolff adds. "It is sometimes easy to forget the details. We need to train for cold weather ops — landing on short runways and on slippery runways. There is a lot of ice here in the winter. In Norway, there is a lot of open space and few people, but the terrain is very unforgiving up north where we train. A mountain can be hiding behind every cloud. If we do something wrong, that's it."

Ops Change

The arrival of the goddesses will also signal significant changes in how 335 Squadron operates. What had primarily been a daylight operation will shift to round-the-clock operations.

"The unit will have an initial transport capability in the summer of 2009," Kolff says. "Then we'll start aircrew training in complex situations. We'll go to Red Flag. We'll fly a lot at night in the winter when it actually gets dark here. We'll start flying with night vision goggles, which is something completely new for us. We'll have an initial tactical capability with two aircraft and four crews by January 2010. We'll have full tactical capability in 2011."

"We haven't done heavy equipment drops before, but we will do that in the J-model. That's a new capability for us," Sølna observes. "With only four aircraft, what I think we'll see when we are in full operation is one aircraft in maintenance, one in training, one for tasking, and one that's flexible for any tasking."

"With the J, we'll be doing more night flying and more special operations work," adds Haukås. "Maintenance will have to go to two shifts. The technicians are used to working day shift only. The crew chief would call in specialists if there was something he couldn't handle when an aircraft came in late. That will have to change."

"These aircraft are not only essential for our air force — they are, in fact, essential for all the Norwegian armed forces," said Strøm-Erichsen. "Transport aircraft are of paramount importance for our military to have the necessary flexibility and deployability, especially for our troops on the ground. These new aircraft will play an even more vital role in supporting the complex operations of our special forces than the old ones did. It is my expectation that as soon as these aircraft are fully mission capable, they will be deployed to international operations."

"We plan to do the job we did with six aircraft with the four new aircraft," Kolff concludes. "We have seen what other nations have done with the J. We have large expectations for the goddesses."

Jeff Rhodes is the associate editor of Code One.