Keeping C-130 Hercules strong, mission ready

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Mitch Gettle
  • 320th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The 320th Air Expeditionary Wing's motto is "Combat Airlift After Dark." Pilots and crews complete this mission with a fleet of aging C-130 Hercules, night out and night in.

But, just like a winning driver in auto racing, pilots cannot get to the finish line without the maintainers providing the proper equipment on a timely basis.

"The 320th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron does an outstanding job keeping these forty-plus year-old planes in the air," said Lt. Col. Scott Cummings, 320th Expeditionary Operations Group commander. "Their enthusiasm and initiative is second to none."

The 320th EMXS is made up of the total force, mostly people from Pope Air Force Base, N.C., and others from the Idaho Air National Guard in Boise.

"Our mixture works well, because the Guard folks bring a level of experience and knowledge as technicians working on the same planes for many years, that our younger active duty troops don't have," said Chief Master Sgt. John Kasprak, 320th EMXS superintendent, deployed from Pope.

"The young airmen have a great deal of motivation, and that blended with the years of experience we have helps us fix some problems faster," said Master Sgt. Kris Kotter, 320th EMXS day shift production superintendent, deployed from the Idaho ANG.

The mission is a grind here for the fleet of C-130s supplying the forward-deployed locations for Operation Enduring Freedom. The 320th has a 70 percent usage rate, which means seven out of 10 aircraft assigned fly every day to locations in the area of responsibility.

"Our launch reliability rate was 97 percent (in November), which is very good considering we're flying harder than home station -- flying more missions and putting more flying hours per day on the planes," Kasprak said. "That is a tribute to all the people who work to get these aircraft airborne, most of which are older than the folks working on them."

Most combat missions are flown under the cover of darkness, but a lot of planes are in and out of here everyday at any time with preparation a key factor. Preparing a flight depends on what is scheduled for a particular mission and is usually accomplished many hours ahead of the flight. But circumstances in this forward-deployed area always change, so flexibility is paramount.

"We can have the cargo area configured for cargo only, and then by the time the crew arrives, we have to change the configuration for passengers and cargo," said Gary Greenwood, 320th EMXS expeditor, deployed from Pope. "It takes time, but the crew chiefs do an excellent job keeping the flights on schedule."

"These kids make it happen," said Tech Sgt. Mike Wirick, deployed from the Idaho ANG, referring to the young crew chiefs, who for the most part are young staff sergeants or airmen. "They do it all, and they stay motivated no matter what task or job comes their way."

Most missions supply forward-deployed troops in Afghanistan. The work is tedious at times, but importance of the missions is not lost on the airmen.

"It is nice to actually see the result of your work every time a plane takes off," said Airman 1st Class Andrew DeFrancis, 320th EMXS C-130 crew chief, deployed from Pope. "It makes all the work worthwhile."

The flightline is divided into two areas, a dirt ramp and a concrete ramp. This leads to the maintainers calling themselves the Dirt Rangers and Concrete Cowboys, because depending on what maintenance needs to be accomplished determines where the C-130 is parked.

It is a group effort every day to keep the Hercules fleet in the air; however, not only do they support home-station aircraft, but they handle transient dissimilar aircraft from a variety of services and nations.

"We have crew chiefs, specialists, technicians, sheet metal, back shop personnel here -- you name it we maintain it," said Kasprak.