Friday, August 05, 2011

TOP STORY > >Base transitions to more training and new C-130Js

Leader staff writers

“I foresee a strong future for the 314th Airlift Wing,” Gen. Edward A. Rice, Jr., commander of the Air Force Air Education and Training Command, said recently, despite transitions in training and in modernizing the C-130 fleet at Little Rock Air Force Base and throughout the Air Force.

Speaking to reporters re-cently at the C-130 rodeo competition at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Air Force Base, Rice said the 314th would “continue to be a very important wing for the United States Air Force as we continue to modernize the force and as we deal with the budget challenges we have and make decisions about where we’re going to maximize our ability to provide defense for the American people.”

Part of the transition includes phasing out the Vietnam-era C-130Es and replacing them with C-130Hs currently assigned to the base and borrowed from National Guard units.

Col. Mark Czelusta will be at the stick in September to pilot the last of the legacy C-130E’s assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base to “the bone yard,” Czelusta said Thursday.

Czelusta, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, said the award-winning tail number 1855 would be the last Vietnam-era airframe to leave the base as the Air Force transitions its mid-load transport to C-130J and C-130AMP airframes.

The J model is state of the art; the AMP planes are older H model planes retrofitted with advanced avionics comparable to those on the J-model.

Originally, the Air Force and Congress had intended to simply transfer those planes to Little Rock AFB, the preeminent C-130 and C-130-training wing in the world, but powerful senators and congressmen protecting their home turf squawked so loudly that the terms were changed.

The 314th currently has 10 C-130Js and 20 C-130E and H aircraft, Czelusta said.

“That will climb to 13 or 14 J’s in a few years,” he said, and the “J” training capacity will double. That’s because there will also be more simulators.

The 314th Airlift Wing is also known as the C-130 schoolhouse, and nearly all crews and maintainers from U.S. forces and 40 or more allies come to the base for training.

About 550 or 600 Air Force airmen and employees will be replaced by about 710 reservists over the space of three or four years. The first 10 percent of them are already in place, Czelusta said.

The plan is to eventually completely equip the 19th Airlift Wing, an expeditionary force based at Little Rock AFB and commanded by Col. Mike Minihan, with the state-of-the-art C-130J, which can fly higher, longer, faster, haul a bigger payload and land and take off on shorter runways.

Meanwhile, the C-130H and the C-130AMP will fill in.

The Air Force Reserve has begun standing up a new unit, Detachment 1, 22nd Air Force, at the base. Along with the 189th Air National Guard Unit, it will be largely responsible for training crews and maintainers for the C-130H and C-130AMP, but the 314th will continue to do some legacy training despite its role training crews and maintainers for the new J model.

That training itself continues to undergo changes, with about 92 percent of all hands-on pilot training taking place in flight simulators, including four full-motion C-130J simulators, one C-130 AMP (avionics modernization program) simulator and one more of each on order.

Nobody can predict what weapons Congress will fund in these budget-cutting times, but Czelusta says the C-130J is “a proven platform,” satisfying the needs of U.S. forces in combat areas.

“The quality of training at Little Rock is second to none,” he said.

“We’re proud of the 314th brand,” he said. We’re efficient and effective.”

The 314th reports to Air Education and Training command at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio.

“I think we’ve got a good understanding between all of the partners in the transition, so I’m very comfortable with the road ahead and the vision ahead in terms of how we’ll move from the current system to the more modern system and have a patching,” Rice said.

At Little Rock AFB, those partners include primarily the 314th Airlift Wing, the National Guard’s 189th unit and a new reserve unit being stood up on the base, Detachment 1, 22nd Air Force.

“I think we’re off to a good start here,” said Rice. “There’s more work to be done by all who are involved — guard, reserve, active duty. Understand the importance of the mission. Understand the importance of cooperation between the three elements.

“We’re always moving forward, so nothing is static. Everything, as you said, is in some state of transition. … across the board, whether it’s recruiting, training or education, we have an eye not only toward today but one eye on the future at all times,” according to the general.

“We work very closely with the air staff that sets the policies that not only govern how we train but our personnel policies for where we place people and how long they stay there, etc. Then we have to work very closely with all the major commanders who really provide us with the criteria we need to meet in our training programs. It is very complex.

“One of the features of that is a significantly increased use of simulators and simulation and like types of capabilities to enhance the way that we train and to do it in some cases more economically because we can do things in a ground-based environment that is less expensive than if we were to do them in the air,” Rice said. “I think, and I’ve believed this for a long time, that there’s still more we’ll be able to do to transition from aircraft environment to ground-based training environment.”

Depending on fuel prices, it costs between $3,500 and $5,000 an hour to train in the air, Czelusta said, but “only” $800 an hour in a simulator.

The base also has part-task simulators for individual tasks, which can cost as little as $10 an hour to operate, he said.

In all, it has about 80 simulators dealing with some aspect of training.

Last weekend, the 314th Airlift Wing took the title of best C-130 team in the world by winning the Gen. Joe W. Kelly Trophy for Best C-130 team at the 2011 Air Mobility Rodeo at McChord Air Field, Wash.

The 314th Airlift Wing, flying the oldest C-130E in the rodeo, won five other awards, in addition to the best C-130 team honor.

The awards include:

 Best C-130 Team

 Best C-130 Airdrop

 Best C-130 Aircrew Award

nBest C-130 Maintenance Skills Team

 Best C-130 Maintenance Team and

 Best Overall Maintenance Skills Team.