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Another C-130 Leaves the Air Force: The End of an Era

I don’t like to write about sad things, because, surprise surprise, it makes me sad.  The challenging thing about this story is that it involves doing something that I totally love, flying.

If you pay much attention to US Air Force changes then you know that the C-130H is being replaced by the C-130J which does not utilize the services of a navigator, which also means I am having to find a new job, but that is a whole different story.  Fortunately, these old beautiful birds still have a life to live in the Reserves and National Guard.

I had the opportunity to go and drop one of these planes off at its new home in Ohio.  While a few pictures and nice memories really don’t do justice to a plane that has served for more than 43 years, that is all that I have to offer.

The sunset as we were leaving Japan was simply stunning. Poetic as well as this was the sunset mission for tail 1659.

Our original plan was to fly the southern route across the Pacific visiting beautiful tropical islands as a good-bye to this sweet old lady.  However, as these planes have done for much of their career, she had different ideas.  She decided she wasn’t quite ready to leave Japan so she broke for two days.  That meant that we had to take the northern route through Alaska which was equally as beautiful, just a lot more chilly.

Having been to Alaska last year I was not quite as excited as I was to visit Hawaii for the first time, but it was just as beautiful as I remembered.  What was unique about this leg was the distance we were able to cover and the altitude we were able to reach.

Sunrise as we started to cross the Aleutian chain on our way into Alaska was equally as stunning.

Typically for us, 6-8 hours is a pretty long mission and generally the limit of our fuel depending on how much cargo we are carrying.  We also are generally restricted to about 20,000 feet or so in altitude because we are so heavy.  But a fortunate shift in the winds, and the small payload we were carrying allowed us fly for a full ten hours and climb all the way to 27,000 feet.  I know that is nothing for a commercial airliner, or even our bigger Air Force brothers, but for a C-130H that was a pretty big deal.  We also were able to make the trip from Japan to Anchorage without stopping which is an even more amazing feat for our non aerial refuel capable plane.

The Canadian Rockies are incredible to behold and probably more remote than most anywhere else I have ever been.

After some much-needed sleep in Alaska, despite the sun not setting until after midnight, we headed off for Great Falls, MT for another stop.  I have never flown over the Canadian Rockies before so it was really fun to see just how stunning they really are.  There was still a large amount of snow up there which made it even more majestic.

I know it is a small thing, that only my older brother may appreciate, but it was fun to just relax and toss a frisbee around for a few minutes. Yes there is someone relaxing in that hammock, the only way to travel in the back of a C-130.

I was also able to fulfill a career-long dream of mine on this leg, playing frisbee in the back of the plane while flying.  Generally this is not possible because we are full of stuff and/or people, but since all we had was the crew and a bunch of spare parts there was plenty of room for activities.  Fighter guys can do lots of cool fun stuff, but they can’t walk around and relax in the back of their planes.  They also have to use a piddle pack, but that too would be a story for another day.

After crossing over Glacier National Park we descended down into the plains near Great Falls and enjoyed some of the beautiful scenery, in particular the Missouri River.  Due to scheduling concerns, we actually had a day off in Great Falls where we were able to go out and enjoy some fishing on the river before proceeding on.  The fishing sucked because the river was so high, but I will never turn down some time on the banks of a beautiful river surrounded by stunning mountains with a fishing rod in my hand.

A stop in Big Sky country seemed fitting as this is the place that many of our other tails will be traveling to. A nice little break before her last leg.

It was a little sad leaving Great Falls on the last leg of our mission knowing that this would be the last leg of an active duty career spanning more than four decades.  There are only a handful of people in our squadron that were even alive when this plane was built, and now her time was up.

As we pulled into parking in Ohio and shut her down for the last time it was a little sad to say goodbye to another one of these sweet girls.  She still has a good life to live in the Guard, but as the number of H models we have on the ramp here continues to dwindle it makes me sad to see the end of this era.  If I’m being honest a little of that is selfish because I am losing my position on active duty, but I really think it goes deeper than that.

We often talk about how the C-130H was really the last plane in the Air Force inventory that you really got to fly because all of the others are so technologically advanced that computers do a lot of the work.  There is also something comforting about all of the gauges and dials, that broke as often as not, but that were a credit to the craftsmanship of this beautiful plane.  How many machines that are this complex have been able to take a legit beating for 40+ years and still keep working?  Not many.

So as I say goodbye to old 1659, it is with a heavy heart, but with fond memories of the amazing things I have gotten to do on this amazing aircraft.

No rest for the weary. Before we could even get all of our stuff of the plane, her new owners had her all ready to be towed into a hangar to get cleaned up and ready to keep working.

June 7, 2017 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

The F-35 vs the A-10: Does it Really Matter Which is Better?

The A-10 is one of the most applicably designed aircraft ever.

The A-10 is one of the most applicably designed aircraft ever.

I just read an interesting article that compared the value of the A-10 against the complete waste of money that is the F-35.  The general essence of the article was that the A-10 is the greatest plane ever designed and that the F-35 is the biggest waste of money in US military history.  The writer makes enough good points that it is hard to disagree with that summary however extreme it may be.

I will admit that I jumped on the F-35 band wagon when it was first announced years ago.  It was a beautiful looking plane that was advertised to have amazing capabilities.  The technology involved was fascinating, and it sounded like it would be the most versatile and effective aircraft in the inventory.

Unfortunately, the reality has been almost completely the opposite.

The F-35 could be incredibly effective if it ever lives up to the hype.

The F-35 could be incredibly effective if it ever lives up to the hype.

The F-35 program has been one delay after another with unlimited amounts of controversy at every turn.  On the other hand the A-10 has been a dream of a plane that for some unexplainable reason the Air Force has tried to get rid of on numerous occasions.

There are pictures and videos all over the internet of A-10s that are seriously damaged that finished their mission and returned the pilot home safely.  On the other hand, the internet is flooded with stories about the problems the F-35 has had before ever flying an operational mission.  The most recent issue being that the F-35 can’t operate with fuel that is too warm.  This could be a bit of an issue considering the fact that most of the conflicts currently taking place are happening in areas that can be extremely hot.

The problem that I see with this debate is the general point that the aforementioned article makes.  Who is considering the real benefits of the aircraft we are buying?

I do feel that there is value in stealth aircraft, not because it makes planes invisible, but because it does make it more difficult for enemies to detect our aircraft.  But does the F-35 provide that much of a stealth advantage over the F-15 Silent Eagle proposal to justify that dramatically higher price tag?

The one thing I have never understood is why we are dropping so much money on completely new aircraft designs when we have amazing airframes that could continue to operate with new technologies applied to make them even better?  I look at aircraft like the A-10, F-15E, and F-16 and wonder why we aren’t just continuing to upgrade these incredibly effective platforms.

I guess it comes back to the problem mentioned in the first article, the Air Force is generally run by fighter jocks that like shiny new toys and not necessarily the ones that will do the job the best.

The C-130 is one of the most effectively employed airframes in the Air Force as evidenced by its longevity.

The C-130 is one of the most effectively employed airframes in the Air Force as evidenced by its longevity.

The interesting aspect of that theory though is that the problem is not quite as evident when you look at the mobility side of the Air Force.  The best example of course being my beloved C-130 Hercules.  It has been in service with the Air Force for 60 years now and simply continues to receive upgrades.  While I feel there are some deficiencies in the newest variant, the C-130J, it is still an incredibly versatile and effective airframe.  Fortunately, the Air Force has not tried to force in a new airframe, but has realized the real value of this aircraft.

When you look at the mobility fleet of the Air Force it is currently made up of three planes the C-17 (~25 years of service), the C-5 (~45 years of service), and the C-130 (~60 years of service).  I’m not really sure how the longevity of these planes is so completely overlooked when it comes to assembling the strike fleet on the other side of the Air Force.

I realize there are significant differences between mobility and strike aircraft, but I also don’t think the differences are so dramatically different that strike aircraft need to be completely replaced that much more often.  Maybe I’m wrong?

In the end, it really feels like the original article is preaching some pretty serious truth about the Air Force.  There really does seem to be a systemic problem when it comes to acquiring new aircraft.  There seems to be a disconnect between the war-fighter and those tasked with supplying them.

But rather than just complaining about the situation I have to wonder how that problem can be fixed.  The simple answer to me as a brand new Captain is to get more real feedback from the operators that are actually flying these planes everyday.  That means getting feedback from Lieutenants, Captains, and Majors that are actively operating these airframes. Most importantly, that feedback must actually be implemented in the development and purchasing processes.

We shouldn’t be going to Colonels who are busy with a lot of things other than flying when it comes to understanding what our planes currently do, and how they can be improved to support the current environment.  Obviously, we shouldn’t let Lieutenants and Captains make the actual purchases but if we aren’t allowing for input from the people who are actually using the product then we are completely missing the point.

Way too many of these decisions are being made by people who have biased agendas rather than by the people who are putting their lives in the cockpits of these planes.  We need to reassess the process and make sure that we are making the right decisions to defend our country, and not the decisions that will line anyone’s pockets.

I realize this is much easier said than done, but the discussion has to start somewhere.  I think there are enough people in the process that genuinely care about the situation to make a change if they will simply DO something about it.  At the very least maybe they will do something to get others thinking that may ultimately lead to effective changes throughout the entire process.

For now we can only hope that the incredible operators that are tasked with employing these airframes will continue to be the best trained and most capable operators in the world to make sure that we continue to be the world’s finest Air Force.

 

December 20, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

C-130 Lands Unarrested on an Aircraft Carrier

As awesome as it is to watch beautifully produced videos of aircraft in HD, sometimes it is nice to watch some of the old grainy videos from a long time ago.

I got this video from my dad when I found out I was being assigned to the C-130.  It is a pretty incredible video of a USMC KC-130F landing on the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier, and took place in November and October of 1963.

They performed 29 touch-and-gos, 21 unarrested full-stop landings, and 21 unassisted takeoffs.  Weighing 85,000 pounds it performed a full-stop landing in only 267 feet.  With a maximum load on take-off it used only 745 feet.

These tests proved that the KC-130F could take off with 25,000 pounds of cargo, transport it 2,500 miles and land safely on the carrier.  Our modern jets can do some amazing things, but this stuff is just crazy.  I could keep going, but I’d rather you just enjoy the video below.

All information quoted above comes from the video itself.

June 6, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Alamo Area Aerospace Academy Providing Education and Critical Training/Experience

A month ago I wrote about an education program that Airbus sponsors to help provide education as well as hands on training at the Airbus Lycée.  That article led to a couple of pretty in-depth discussions on LinkedIn that are actually still going.

The general consensus of those discussions was that the aviation industry as a whole needs to do a better job promoting themselves, and all of the various options that exist for jobs in aviation.  I for one think we also need to create more programs that provide better opportunities for young people to get training, and the all important “work experience”.

I came across another great program that is not only fostering aviation, but in some cases is leading to actual jobs.

The Alamo Area Aerospace Academy is one of four vocational training schools in the San Antonio area that puts students on the fast track to careers in various industries.  The Aerospace Academy was developed out of a need for workers at Lockheed Martin.  As their workforce was retiring they needed a pipeline for training young, new employees.  So they worked with the local government, community college, aerospace companies, and school districts to develop a program to get kids excited about aviation, and get them the necessary training.

The program lasts two years and includes a paid internship between the students’ junior and senior years.  During the school year the classes provide hands on training and experience while still earning students credit towards high school graduation, and even a good chunk of an associate degree.

This is exactly the type of program that we need more of in every industry, and especially in aviation.  It is far easier to get excited about education when you see the practical application of it.  The reality is that college is not for everyone, and that training like this can be far more valuable for many people than a four-year degree would ever be.

Apparently the program is creating the desired results as Lockheed Martin estimates that 20% of their direct hire workforce comes from the Aerospace Academy.  And, as I already mentioned, three other industries have developed similar academies to train their own workforce.

While this is not necessarily the right approach for everyone, or every industry, we need to develop more programs just like this.  Youth are ready to get excited about a career well before they reach college, and aviation needs to be there when they are developing that excitement.  If we want to attract the best and the brightest, we need to get them hooked earlier than we are right now.

What other programs could we create to help get young people excited about aviation, and prepare them for potential careers in the industry?

March 10, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

C-130 Hercules Flying Low-Level Through the Mountains

With all of the somewhat depressing news in my two biggest passions (sports and aviation) this past week I just needed to post something that is 100% awesome.  Fortunately, we have YouTube to make such endeavors incredibly easy.

As a C-130 navigator myself, I am quickly becoming biased, but no matter who you are, if you love the thrill of flying, then this is definitely a video you will enjoy.

This video is of C-130s from the 36th Airlift Squadron based out of Yokota AB Japan.  The views are picturesque, and the flying is quite impressive considering the size and agility of the Herc.

So please, enjoy the next five minutes of flying at its finest in the video below.

 

January 22, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Top Gun 2 to Feature Tom Cruise and the F-35

Like many other young men I was completely enamored with aviation, and fighter jets in particular, from the very first time I saw Top Gun.  I was in elementary school and I still remember pretending to be Maverick on the swings.  That love of aviation has led me to my current career.

It was confirmed back in December by Tom Cruise that the sequel was in the works, but not a whole lot was known.  But, just like most Hollywood secrets some of the details are now starting to leak, though from some unexpected sources.

Tom Burbage, the Lockheed Martin F-35 program manager, recently let some of these details slip at a luncheon for the National Aeronautics Association.  According to the DEW Line blog at FlightGlobal.com, Burbage confirmed that Tom Cruise will not only make a cameo appearance, but will be the star.

While that may be a little bit of a surprise, the much bigger news is the aircraft that they have chosen to star alongside Cruise: the F-35.  There is a little bit of irony in selecting a plane that is yet to really take-off to star alongside an actor that is in the twilight of his career, but I for one am intrigued.

Honestly, I don’t think the film will be that great just like most sequels made 35 years after the original.  I really don’t know where they are going to go in terms of a story with an old test pilot in a plane that has never seen combat, but it can be fun to take guesses.

The above blog post has an amusing take on a potential storyline.  Personally, I see Tom Cruise being the first to take the F-35 into combat because the other aircraft just aren’t cutting it.  Sending in an old man to do the job of younger men because they don’t have the experience.

It would be something like Kevin Costner in The Guardian, but since Goose is already gone Maverick can just take the fall.  Or maybe something along the lines of Iron Eagle (the other movie that made me fall in love with aviation) where Tom Cruise takes the F-35 into combat for the first time and gets shot down only to have to be rescued by a young heart throb who can go and play horseshoes or cards with Val Kilmer.

Regardless of the storyline, it may be the first exciting video we get of the F-35 in action.

More importantly, I hope that the sequel gets the young generation as excited about flying as the original did for my generation.

March 6, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft Brings Composites to the Air Force

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is an aircraft that is being closely watched by the whole aviation industry.  It is the first airliner to be built largely of composites which is supposed to help increase fuel efficiency which is the biggest financial issue in aviation.

Normally, the military drives innovation and the development and new technologies.  In this case, Boeing may have been the innovator in the civilian sector, with Lockheed Martin pursuing development in the military arena.

The advanced composite cargo aircraft from Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works could revolutionize the way aircraft are built.

Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program, more commonly known as Skunk Works, is working to develop an advanced composite cargo aircraft for the US Air Force.  Most people are well aware of the efficiency benefits of composites, but there are a lot more advantages than that.

According to the Lockheed Martin website, here are a couple of the other benefits:

The use of composites in aircraft manufacturing will mean lighter, less expensive and more durable aircraft that also are easier to maintain. For example, the Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft manufacturing process will require far fewer parts and will dramatically reduce corrosion and metal fatigue issues.

Corrosion and metal fatigue are huge issues for military aircraft that are often forced to enter incredibly harsh environments where any material would be tested to its limits.  Add to that the generally rugged nature of military operations, and it is clear that it takes a pretty special material to support that.

If that weren’t enough, you also have to consider the fact that military aircraft are almost always asked to serve much longer than they are originally planned.  Reducing corrosion and fatigue would make it that much easier for aircraft to successfully operate even longer.

If these new materials and structural concepts are as effective as they hope them to be, than the new advanced composite cargo aircraft may change the way that military aircraft are built much the way the 787 Dreamliner could change the way airliners are built.

I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.