Converted C-130s make flying, training, maintaining easier

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The C-130 Hercules getting upgraded avionics will give pilots better situational awareness, will be easier to schedule for missions and easier to maintain.

The first of some 350 Air Force's C-130s to receive the avionics modernization program conversion -- which upgrades it with new digital displays and a flight management system -- flew its first flight from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 19.

Aircraft 99101 -- dubbed AMP aircraft H2 -- returned to Lackland after a successful flight that lasted nearly three hours, said officials at the Boeing Co., which is making the conversion. The aircraft is from Maxwell's Reserve 908th Airlift Wing.

The transports will receive six digital displays and the flight management system Boeing developed for the newest version of its 737 commercial airliner to replace analog instruments. The Maxwell aircraft started its conversion in January 2005.

The wing will be the first unit equipped with the new variant. Currently, the Air Force has 14 variants of five different C-130E's, H1s, H2s, H3s and the J models. When the upgrades end, there will only be AMP modified and J models.

Wing commander Col. Michael Underkofler said the conversion will offer many tangible benefits. The colonel is a veteran pilot with more than 5,000 flying hours in multiple versions of the C-130 including the newest, the J model.

"Based on my experience flying the C-130J equipped with heads-up-displays and APN 241 color weather radar, installing this technology on our aircraft as a part of the avionics modernization program will reduce pilot fatigue while improving situational awareness, safety and combat capability," the colonel said.

The conversion promises to make life easier for both fliers and maintainers.

"Currently, when we deploy, we often find ourselves in a mix of different models of the aircraft," 908th Operations Group commander Col. John Jones said. "This creates a real nightmare for operators who try to build a flying schedule several days in advance.

"If I've got an H1 lined up to fly and it breaks, the spare may be an E model," Colonel Jones said. "So now I've got to send the H1 crew home and call in an E crew. The effects of one change can disrupt the plans for several days of flying. When this conversion is complete, it will make scheduling and operations in a deployed environment much easier."

The conversion will simplify training since there will be two schoolhouses, one for the AMP model and another for the J model, Colonel Jones said. When pilots complete training and go to a squadron, they won't need additional training to qualify on a cockpit significantly different from the one they flew at the schoolhouse.

The conversion will also offer benefits for those who maintain the aircraft.

"There will only be two types of C-130 parts to maintain, instead of the present five," Col. Kerry Kohler, the 908th Maintenance Group commander said. "The AMP parts will also be shared with those with the newest 737 [aircraft], so there will be a bigger pipeline and inventory of parts."

Aircraft 99101 will remain with Boeing for operational test and evaluation for up to three years.