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Pilots give new C-130J aircraft rave reviews

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Rebidue marshals in the Air Force's second active-duty J-model C-130 Hercules here April 5.  Sergeant Rebidue is a C-130 dedicated crew chief.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tim Bazar)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Rebidue marshals in the Air Force's second active-duty J-model C-130 Hercules here April 5. Sergeant Rebidue is a C-130 dedicated crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tim Bazar)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. (AFPN) -- Here at the "Home of the Herk" -- the affectionate nickname for the C-130 Hercules aircraft -- there is no ambivalence about the new "J" model.

The C-130J is the latest addition to the C-130 fleet, bringing state-of-the-art technology to the tactical cargo- and troop-transport aircraft that has been in the Air Force inventory since 1954.

The J-model's future had been in question when the Pentagon initially acted to cancel the program, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld restored it to the fiscal 2006 budget request in early May.

Secretary Rumsfeld's decision got a resounding "thumbs up" from crews that have flown the C-130J and can barely stifle their enthusiasm for the new plane.

"From a pilot's perspective, this aircraft is just phenomenal," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Blalock, who has been flying the J-model for three years. He is the acting commander of the 48th Airlift Squadron here, which began offering formal training on the C-130J in February 2004.

The standardized program, with a dedicated cadre, replaces unit-level conversion training, which had initially been offered on the aircraft since it first entered the inventory.

Sitting on the tarmac, the J-model does not look much different from earlier-generation models. It is 15 feet longer, which gives it the capability to carry 36 more troops or two more pallets, and has six rather than four blades on each propeller.

But step inside the cockpit and the differences are clear. The J-model features a streamlined instrument board, digital avionics, a heads-up display and state-of-the-art navigation systems.

The heart of the system, a mission computer, handles many of the functions crewmembers once did manually. During an emergency, for example, these systems "will tell us about a problem and correct it or take care of it before we can even take out the checklist," Colonel Blalock said.

These systems are so automated that they have eliminated two of the five crewmember positions on the C-130: the navigator and flight engineer.

The J-model, with more horsepower than previous C-130s, "climbs like a rocket" on takeoff, Colonel Blalock said, a big plus when leaving a high-threat area. It also flies farther at a higher cruise speed and takes off and lands in a shorter distance than older C-130s.

"The engines and props give you tremendous power and capability," Colonel Blalock said.

While raving about its power, Colonel Blalock said one of the best features of the J-model is the increased situational awareness its glass heads-up display panel provides.

"It tells the pilot everything that's going on in the airplane, but also lets you look outside the aircraft so you know what's going on around you," he said.

In addition, an enhanced cargo-handling system improves loading and unloading operations.

"It's way, way more user-friendly, like it was designed by a pilot," said Capt. Jill Browning, a 48th AS instructor.

Captain Browning said she was "initially very skeptical" about the J-model aircraft, but became a believer the first time she took the controls.

"It's amazing how much more capable this aircraft is, and the situational awareness it gives you is just awesome," she said.

"We're pretty excited about it, and we absolutely love flying it," Captain Browning said. She said that with so many crews here flying E-models and H-models of the C-130, "we try not to sound too enthusiastic about it so it looks like we're gloating."

"Going from those planes to this is an incredible leap," said Maj. Dave Flynn, an evaluator pilot for the 48th AS’s C-130J training course. Major Flynn has flown both the E-models and H-models.

The J-model "is an awesome airplane," he said. "I love it."

"It's a great airplane," said Capt. Mark Suckow, who has been flying the J-model for more than two years with the 815th Airlift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. "I sure wouldn't want to go back to another plane."

Captain Suckow, who initially received unit-level conversion training on the C-130J, is now here attending the 48th AS’s J-model course.

The squadron currently has three aircraft for training and officials expect to get four more by year's end.

The J-model initially went into production in 1997, with the first models going to the United Kingdom and Australia.

Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve squadrons were the first U.S. units to receive the C-130J aircraft. The first J-model went to the active Air Force in April 2004.

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