Posted: 10/30/2004 4:51:45 PM EDT
November 01, 2004
Miramar crews gear up as new KC-130s arrive
Updated Hercules comes with mixed blessings
By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. — At first glance, the KC-130J Hercules looks much like its middle-aged brethren on the flight line here. But it’s on the inside where the newest member of Herc Country stands apart from the other KC-130 turboprops parked on the tarmac.
The new plane’s cockpit boasts state-of-the-art “head-up” displays for the pilot and co-pilot and five color monitors that display flight information, moving maps and systems diagnostics. Suites of sensors constantly read various communications, radar, navigation, refueling and avionics systems and computers.
Gone are the vacuum tubes and the array of switches that recall the 1950s — and that’s a welcome change for the Herc’s pilots and crew.
“It’s all kind of old-looking, and it’s all 1950s and ’60s technology,” said Capt. Jason W. Julian, 32.
Meanwhile, something else is also missing from this cockpit — the seats for the flight engineer and navigator. In their place, the airplane’s advanced avionics “basically acts as a third crew member,” Julian said.
The extra room allows for a few new comforts: A pair of basic bunks and room for a microwave oven.
Julian, a pilot, is part of a 25-member team at Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 at Miramar that’s conducting the transition to the “J” model KC-130 that’s slated to replace the Corps’ “R” and “T” models.
This particular Hercules, tail number 736, is the second one built and became part of the “Raiders” of VMGR-352 in late August. Meanwhile, VMGR-252 on the East Coast has transitioned to the KC-130J, and VMGR-452 in Japan is scheduled to follow in 2006.
By October 2005, the Raiders expect to have eight of the new airplanes and about half of the squadron fully trained, even while the squadron trains and deploys overseas.
By March, Julian said, there will be enough instructors to be able to train the rest of the squadron for the transitions.
For now, squadron members await their second aircraft, due in November, and continue to build the cadre of instructors. “This squadron is going to maintain operational readiness the entire time,” Julian said.
The program ran into testing difficulties earlier this summer when its antimissile defenses didn’t work as program officials had hoped. Officials said problems with the J’s defensive countermeasures system stemmed from difficulties integrating it into the aircraft’s electronics system. They also said that wasn’t an issue with the defense system itself and should not endanger the program.
In the meantime, the Raiders continue to build up their instructor support as the Marine Corps awaits some additional testing of the J’s survivability systems, which, once fully tested and certified, will lead to the turboprop’s getting the green light for combat operations.
The results of additional testing done in September are expected to be released in December, and any software or hardware upgrades would follow, said Maj. Brian Magnuson, a Hercules pilot who leads the J Model Miramar Integration Team. “The initial look is things are fine,” Magnuson said.
Even though automated flight controls reduce some of the workload, it’s not a free ride for the pilots. “It’s definitely a lot more demanding,” said Capt. Patrick Tiernan.
Capt. Joe Deigan, 32, agreed. “There’s a lot more flight planning on the part of the mission commander,” he said. Navigators did much of that work but “now the pilots are solely responsible for that. It requires a lot more planning time.” He estimates an extra hour, at least.
“Co-pilots are more important,” Deigan said. “Their roles have really increased.” If one of them is focusing on the head-up display, the other must be concentrating on other tasks, he added.
The new “crew concept” is also a mixed blessing for enlisted crew members. For loadmasters, onboard computers help calculate weight and balancing and make the workload more manageable, said Staff Sgt. Lee Sweaney, 27, a loadmaster instructor.
But at the end of the day, crew chiefs must download all the data tallied by the computers during flight, a process Sgt. Josh Bloomingdale estimated will take 1 to 1½ hours.
“My responsibility has gone way up,” said Bloomingdale, 23, a crew chief instructor and former flight mechanic.
The team is eager to bid farewell to the older “legacy” Hercules.
Julian, inside the “J” model’s belly, excitedly told a visitor: “It’s like a new car smell.”
Microwave oven *inside* the plane? Hell, in some of the planes I was in, the *microwave oven* was just outside of the plane...
-Gator (those young whippersnappers don't aapreciate how easy they have it)