Tuesday, July 12, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Planes worth $3.4 billion

Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, commander of Air Mobility Command, flew last month from the Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta, Ga., and delivered the last of 28 C-130Js assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The 314th Airlift Wing, which trains C-130 crews worldwide, has 13 C-130Js, with two more scheduled for delivery soon, bringing their total to 43 at LRAFB. The base price for a C-130J, without options, is about $80 million, the general said. That’s about $3.4 billion worth of new airplanes — a significant investment in our community.

These planes are faster, require smaller crews and need far less landing space than the older C-130Js. We watched the development of the Js some two decades ago. For a while, it looked as if the Air Force would lose its enthusiasm for the Js — Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) thought they were a boondoggle — but the Clinton administration threw its support behind the C-130Js and the decision to continue the program was announced at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The Reserves and Air National Guard at LRAFB will continue to fly the older H models. Everhart, who spent several years as a junior officer at LRAFB, said that after more than a decade, the Air Force will relaunch a program to retrofit those legacy airframes with avionics modernization program kits.

Phase II would upgrade the cockpit from analog to digital, with headsup displays on transparent screens, making it nearly indistinguishable from the cockpit of the C-130J. It would begin after the completion of Phase I.

The upgrade will allow them to continue flying after 2020 in domestic and foreign air space from which they would be otherwise barred.

Some of those planes are almost 50 years old. That’s why they’re called the workhorse of the Air Force. They should fly for another 20 years.

Here’s hoping the Air Force will continue funding the modernization program and send us more C-130Js when they become available. They’re the right plane for a younger generation.