Wednesday, December 20, 2006

TOP STORY >>Senator will push for plane upgrades

Leader staff writer

Sen. Blanche Lincoln Tuesday toured the innards of the old C-130 and the new C-130J, part of a morning briefing and visit to Little Rock Air Force Base. Meeting with Brig. Gen. Kip Self, commander of the base, Lincoln vowed her continued support and advocacy for the premier C-130 base in the world. That is where all the crews, U.S. and foreign, are trained, and the National Guard on the base trains the trainers. She said she had come to the base as “a routine visit to see the needs of the base.”
After the tour, she said she had concerns over the 55-year-old runway. “A lot needs to be updated.”

Self told her that even though political considerations that surfaced during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) hearings interfered with Defense Department plans to turn it into a mega base, Little Rock still emerged with a number of gains attributable in part to her leadership and that of Sen. Mark Pryor and Cong. Vic Snyder. Self said that although the base realized only eight additional aircraft and 300-plus personnel instead of the once-expected 4,000-person increase, BRAC still moved the base forward.

The Air Mobility Command gained 16 J-model planes, most of which are still to be delivered. Among the gains brought to fruition are the 463rd Airlift Wing’s permanent assignment to the base, the receipt of eight state-of-the-art C-130J transports and new flight simulators. Self said the base is preparing for the future. He arranged to tour the aging Arnold Elementary School with Lincoln, showed her the deteriorating runway and showed her through two C-130s—a 40-year-old model and the redesigned C-130J.

Informed that the base cannot decommission or cannibalize for parts several old C-130s currently restricted or grounded, Lincoln said she would try to change that. “Congress says we must maintain them as flyable until further notice,” said one briefer. “That cuts our access to parts.” At one time, only 18 of the 45 assigned C-130s were in service, one briefer told her.
Currently, about 35 are in service, with many of them in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Col. Dave Watson, vice commander, told the senator that the C-130s now could drop payloads from higher altitudes, but with greater accuracy thanks to global positioning satellite receivers that steer the parachutes. Self told her that the base would like to train and maintain a new fleet of joint cargo aircraft once the Defense Department awards a contract. The aircraft will be able to take off and land on a 2,000-foot mountaintop airstrip and transport four pallets of cargo. The short version of the C-130 could be among the planes considered. “Your (congressional) delegation is absolutely devoted to you,” Lincoln told her briefers. “We work tight as a group, all six of us.”