The 61st Airlift Squadron has flown the C-130J-30 Super Hercules since 2013; Matthew Clements visited the squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas to find out about its mission
MILITARY C-130J SUPER HERCULES
The US Air Force’s 61st Airlift Squadron (61st AS) ‘Green Hornets’, is part of the 19th Airlift Wing (19th AW) and flies the C-130J-30 Super Hercules from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. The unit predominantly deploys overseas in support of Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom.
The squadron’s first C-130J-30 Super Hercules, aircraft serial number 11-5734, arrived at Little Rock on October 24, 2013 and its last, 14-5796, just over three years later, on June 20, 2016. Each of the 19th AW’s two squadrons (the other is the 41st AS ‘Black Cats’) has a unit establishment of 14 aircraft.
The C-130J-30 differs most obviously from the basic C-130J by having a cargo floor stretched from 40ft to 55ft (12.2m to 16.76m). The added 15ft (4.56m) means the stretched Super Hercules can carry eight standard 463L cargo pallets, two more than the shorter version. Other cargo options include 97 litters, 24 CDS (US Container Delivery System) bundles, 128 troops or 92 paratroopers.
The aircraft’s four Allison AE2100D3 turboprop engines, each of which is rated at 4,591 shaft horsepower (3,425kW), make the aircraft significantly cheaper to operate over its lifetime than earlier C-130 models.
AIR International spoke with Major Jeremy Hague, 61st Airlift Squadron’s Assistant Director of Operations about what the C-130J-30 is like to fly. He said: “The C-130J-30 is state of the art. The head-up display [HUD] allows nearly every piece of information required to fly the aircraft to be available to pilots as they look through the windscreen. Knowing that data at a glance makes our job easier and enhances our mission focus. In the low-level environment, it can be challenging to fly the aircraft and we are constantly thinking about what’s around the next valley or what’s beyond the next ridgeline – so the HUD gives situational awareness at all times.”
The minimum crew complement for the C-130J-30 is two pilots and one loadmaster. In the legacy C-130E and C-130H models, the loadmaster was solely concerned with the cargo. While loadmasters in the C-130J-30 are still the experts as far as loading, off-loading and weight and balance are concerned, they have other essential roles during the en-route section of the flight, acting a bit like an old-fashioned flight engineer. Their duties include monitoring various systems, most notably the fuel to ensure the aircraft remains balanced. The loadmaster will also help in an emergency by referencing flight manuals and running checklists when the pilot and co-pilot are task-saturated with flying and talking to air traffic control.
The C-130J-30 can airdrop loads of up to 42 tonnes and crews practise dropping armoured vehicles when training with their partners in the US Army. The most common types of stores delivery when deployed overseas are CDS airdrops where 24 bundles weighing up to 2,200lbs (1,000kg) each are rolled out the back of the aircraft. As well as the usual loads of paratroops and general cargo, the C-130J-30 is also used to drop leafiets and GPS-guided bundles from high altitude. Smaller bundles can be dropped from the side doors at low altitude during search and rescue missions. Green Hornets’ pilot Captain Lance Peak described some of the payloads recently dropped by the Super Hercules in combat operations around the globe. He said: “The C-130J has been dropping rations via HVCDS [high velocity container delivery system] in Iraq in recent months. We can airdrop food rations, water - realistically anything that the ground forces request that we have data and procedures on in our technical publications. We also airdrop heavy equipment to include Humvees or a max cargo load of 42,000lbs. We also have the capability to airdrop 92 combatrigged paratroopers as well as HAHO and HALO [high altitude high opening, high altitude low opening] jumpers.” Maj Jeremy Hague compared the C-130J to its C-130E and C-130H predecessors: “While the electronics and flight management system are completely new for the C-130J, flying the aircraft is very similar to the C-130E and C-130H. Many people transitioning from the older aircraft recognise that it still flies like a Herc. The most recognisable difference is the HUD, which gives pilots significantly more awareness regarding how the aircraft is flying. As pilots, we talk about the instrument crosscheck, which involves periodically scanning your instruments to ensure that you are flying the desired parameters [airspeed, attitude, altitude]. In the C-130J-30, nearly every instrument is constantly right in front of your eyes, which allows us to quickly recognise when we are not flying within our desired parameters. Furthermore, our flight deck is integrated into a glass cockpit, with digital information that can be customised to suit each individual pilot. Flight plans can be overlaid on radar displays and navigational facilities and nearby airports can be added to enhance our situational awareness. Furthermore, we rarely use paper charts in the C-130J-30. Our digital map display can be used to reference charts and imagery on the screens in the cockpit.”
The daily grind - training around Little Rock
The area around Little Rock is perfect for practising tactical combat airlift. Low flying is practised in the mountains to the northwest of the base in Arkansas and the base’s central location in the continental US makes the whole nation with its different terrain quickly accessible. The deserts of west Texas are a short hop away and the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico are within easy reach. The squadron practises dropping army paratroopers on a weekly basis, rarely flying more than an hour to pick up its passengers. Capt Peak described the benefits of being based in Little Rock: “Flying at Little Rock presents its own unique challenges. We fly several formation sorties during the week to train to our mission set - which is tactical low-level airdrop - and tactical approaches to austere landing zones. We also have a regular tasking of cargo moves across the continental United States, the Caribbean and into Central and South America on occasion. It can be a lot of juggling to make sure we meet all of our training needs, while at the same time providing our planned cargo moves and any humanitarian relief mission that may arise, such as Hurricane Matthew which struck Haiti in early October 2016. There are benefits to flying in and around the local Little Rock area. We have some rising terrain in northern Arkansas and several rivers that converge in the area that we incorporate into our low-level training. We also have access to several drop zones and landing zones within 30-40 minutes of flight time.”
The 61st AS practises tactical landings at locations within a few minutes’ flying time including a dedicated assault landing zone on the airfield and others in North Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri and Alabama. Capt Peak elaborated on how the tactical landing strips are used, and how they aid in real world operations. He explained:
“The landing lengths and widths vary slightly at each zone, as well as the surfaces, with some being asphalt, and others being unimproved or dirt strips. The average you will probably see on a typical training flight would be a runway 60ft [18.3m] wide by 3,000-3,500ft [914-1,066m] long. The crews train to land in the ‘zone’ which is a 500ft [152m] marked box. If the crew lands within that 500ft distance, then all our take-off and landing data previously computed is validated. We train to the same standard during day and night missions with the crews operating on night vision goggles. There are several landing zones in Afghanistan that are similar to the ones we use in training; the major difference being the added factor of pressure altitude in Afghanistan. Our landing zone in training typically averages only a few hundred feet in elevation, whereas some of the fields in Afghanistan sit at an altitude of 6,000ft [1,828m] and higher in some cases. This is also why we plan training missions to mountainous areas so that we have experience in dealing with landing at higher pressure altitudes. The C-130J crews that operate in Africa deal with unimproved landing zones on a routine basis, sometimes landing at fields that have been vacant for years. The training accomplished at home station helps prepare the crews for some adversity they may face in the future.”
Green Hornets at Red Flag
Many squadron members have attended Exercise Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in the C-130J-30. As a tactical airlift platform, the mission during Red Flag is to carry cargo to austere dirt landing zones or airdrop equipment in a challenging environment.
Maj Hague highlighted the benefits Red Flag brings to the squadron: “Much of the training at Red Flag is focused on avoiding detection from ground and air threats. We typically have the opportunity to push the limits of the C-130J by flying fast and low through mountainous terrain to avoid threats. We add in the capability of getting to our objective area on time, to the second, and we really enhance our ability to project combat airpower throughout the exercise. Furthermore, one of the most rewarding opportunities at Red Flag is working with our international allies and sharing our knowledge and capabilities thereby improving interoperability. Aircrews from our squadron have worked with aircrews from Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Belgium, Australia and Italy. Along with Red Flag, the US military and our allies provide many opportunities for our aircrews to practise combat airlift in a complicated environment. We regularly travel to Alaska, North Carolina and even Europe to support large scale exercises.”
The 61st AS is constantly involved in combat operations all over the world - at least four crews were deployed to locations worldwide on every day of 2015. The squadron deployed in support of Operations Resolute Support, Freedom Sentinel and Inherent Resolve during the summer of 2016 and deploys to Europe and Africa supporting operations in several areas.
When its crews are not deployed, they fly missions spanning the western hemisphere from South America to Greenland. Currently, the C-130J-30 is used for a vast array of missions: carrying cargo and passengers in and out of hostile territory, performing airdrops of supplies to troops on the ground and MEDEVAC. In 2015, the squadron moved more than nine million tonnes of cargo and over 19,000 passengers, supporting operations on five continents spanning 97 million square miles.
Capt Peak spoke about his recent combat tour: “Personally, my most notable mission in the C-130J-30 was on a recent deployment to Afghanistan in 2016. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the first crew to supply a cut-off FOB [forward operating base] with fuel that we downloaded into their fuel bladders. They [the troops on the ground] were only days from running out of their fuel supply that is used to run their vehicles and generators. The roads were too congested for fuel trucks to attempt a re-supply, so we planned and coordinated for the movement of fuel off-loads. It made for an extremely long day, totalling eight fuel runs made into the LZ [landing zone] that night. Over the next several weeks, the squadron continued resupplying and keeping the FOB up and running. It was an opportunity to see first-hand the impact of your own actions and how it plays into the larger picture. It was a rewarding experience to see the mission go from a planning stage to an execution stage in a relatively short time period. Having assisted with the bulk of the planning and being able to fly the first mission in, was a rewarding experience.”
Aircrews from the 61st AS are constantly called to maximise the capabilities of the C-130J. Most recently (2016), it has had fully loaded aircraft landing on dirt landing zones in parts of Africa and Central Asia. Furthermore, squadron crews have been tasked to perform airdrops to support operations in Central Africa and the Horn of Africa.
Maj Hague described a memorable C-130J-30 mission: “My most memorable mission was carrying special operations forces and landing at a dirt airstrip in the mountains of Afghanistan in the middle of the night. The airstrip was only marked with five lights to show the touchdown zone of the airstrip and the end of the runway. Due to the terrain surrounding the airfield, we were not able to see the lights until one mile [1.6km] from the runway and 300ft [91m] from the ground. We couldn’t identify the edges of the runway until about 100ft [30m]. It was this situation that made the HUD invaluable, since we could use our cues in the HUD to fly the airplane towards the landing zone until we could identify it and successfully land the airplane on the runway.”
Block 8.1 and the future
From its first flight in 1954, the C-130 has constantly been upgraded and modified in response to the changing operational environment. The C-130J-30 provides an extensive suite of electronics giving aircrews vastly improved situational awareness over earlier models.
The newest upgrade Block 8.1 promises to bring a whole new set of capabilities to the C-130J-30 including a flight management systems (FMS) integrated from commercial aircraft with enhanced GPS capabilities and communications systems, and updated friend-or-foe identification. The new FMS will include improved lateral and vertical guidance profiles to allow more precise time control and more efficient flying. It will also include a datalink for receiving real-time information about the battle space and to communicate beyond line-of-sight with mission planners and troops on the ground. Capt Peak told AIR International what Block 8.1 will bring to the C-130J-30 community: “Some of the upgrades that Block 8.1 will incorporate are two additional GPSs so that we can comply with FAA regulations and be legal to fly RNAV GPS [random navigation GPS] approaches, which we currently aren’t able to do. We will be able to assess our timing status in a climb or descent, or several step-down altitudes which currently can cause minor timing problems, requiring crews to use techniques to fix ahead/ behind times in regards to meeting TOTs [times on target] TOAs [times of arrival]. Block 8.1 will also compute with a desired factor, the SD [slow down] point. Currently, crews plan to use a specific slow down factor and use the math to calculate a desired slowdown distance, 8.1 will allow you to add your desired slowdown distance factor and use that to calculate a slowdown distance for you.”