BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Conn. –
The Connecticut Air National Guard, home of the 103rd Airlift Wing ‘Flying Yankees’, is upgrading its fleet of C-130H Hercules aircraft. The first of seven H3 model C-130s arrived at Bradley Air National Guard Base in June 2021. The H3s will replace the Connecticut Guard’s current fleet of aircraft, which consists of H1 models.
In November 2020, the United States Air Force selected Guard units to receive C-130J Super Hercules aircraft as part of a plan to upgrade C-130 fleets across the force. J models, introduced in 1999, are the newest model C-130s available. Units, such as the 103rd, that currently have H1s and have not been selected to receive Js, are upgrading to H3s.
“For the last seven years, we've been flying the oldest H models in the fleet, the 1974 model H1s,” said Col. Stephen R. Gwinn, 103rd Airlift Wing Commander. “As a product of the acquisition of more J models into the Air National Guard, we've had the opportunity to retire H1s, and take some of the other unit’s H3s.”
In 2013, the Connecticut Guard underwent a mission conversion to become a tactical airlift wing. As part of the conversion, the Connecticut Guard replaced its C-21 A Learjet fleet with H1s. The H3s that the Connecticut Guard will be receiving for this year’s upgrade were produced between 1992 and 1996, which is 18 to 20 years newer than the H1s. Because the H3s are newer, replacement parts are more readily available. The upgrade will enable the 103rd to continue its current mission with greater efficiency, using more advanced technology.
“From a maintenance perspective, I would equate this to working on a 1974 car and trying to find the pieces and parts, versus working on a car from the early to mid 90s,” said Col. Thomas Olander, 103rd Maintenance Group Commander. “Obviously, the technology that we currently have in our H1 variants is 1970s, analog technology. What you're seeing in these 1990s variants is more digital technology.”
Like mileage on a car, the number of hours that an aircraft has flown is tracked. Fewer flight hours on an aircraft signify less wear and tear. The 103rd’s new fleet of H3s will have thousands less flight hours than the H1s in its older fleet.
“The H3s we’re receiving average about 10,000 total flight hours versus our current fleet, in which each airplane averages almost 30,000 flight hours,” said Olander. “We're gaining about 20 years of life and about 20,000 flight hours on each airplane. So, this is a significant upgrade from our current fleet. We're hoping that, between failures of parts, less wear and tear on the engines will ultimately result in less unscheduled maintenance on these aircraft, which makes them more available to the Operations Group to fly them.”
The C-130, often referred to as the workhorse of air mobility, was first introduced in 1957. The four-engine turboprop aircraft operates globally, during peace and wartime, and performs a wide range of operational missions, including combat air support, natural disaster relief, aeromedical evacuation, weather reconnaissance and Antarctic ice resupply.
Though the C-130H has undergone multiple upgrades, the H3 and H1 appear to be identical when viewing the outside of the aircraft. Among other similarities, both the H1 and H3 models can carry up to 92 troops or 42,000 pounds of cargo, depending on how the aircraft are configured.
Notable differences between the two models can be found in the avionics packages. Avionics package improvements in the H3 include ring laser gyroscopes for the inertial navigation system, GPS receivers, night vision device compatible instrument lighting, and an integrated radar and missile warning system.
“The majority of the airplane [H3] is absolutely identical [to other C-130H models],” said Gwinn. “The biggest difference in this airplane is the cockpit. It's a big deal when you're in the airplane and flying, because it's a much better system with a lot less room for error. It's a lot more accurate, so it actually is going to keep us safer when doing things like flying in the weather or flying in formation.”
The 103rd’s mission is to provide tactical airpower and mission support, domestically and world-wide. The H3 upgrade will contribute to the 103rd’s mission capabilities by reducing manpower requirements, lowering operating costs, and providing life-cycle cost savings over the H1s.
“You'll get more production out of the airplanes, which will make us able to respond better to the domestic operations,” said Gwinn. “You'll get more productivity out of the airplanes because they'll require a lot less man hours to fix and get over to operations, which means that our execution rate in the operations group will be that much better. The capabilities that we gain bring the risk down, and it's all about risk management.”
Gwinn piloted the 103rd’s first H3 flight from West Virginia to Connecticut. According to Gwinn, the H3 is not only more technologically advanced, but also more comfortable to operate.
“First and foremost, the one I flew was definitely quieter,” said Gwinn. “We're flying an airplane that was designed and built in the 1990s, so it actually has modern avionics and systems and more creature comforts. It has more radios that worked well, and systems in the airplane that were more fluid and smoother than the H1. Then, last but not least, there's actually a toilet in this airplane, which is a big deal for our female crew members and all of our crew members for our long flights across the ocean and traveling around the world.”
Gwinn feels the H3s will help maintain the relevance of the 103rd’s mission.
“We feel that being given these H3s is setting us up for long-term success and relevancy in the Air National Guard,” said Gwinn. We're going to work hard to make them even better and modernize them.”
The 103rd’s C-130H upgrade is expected to be complete by September 2021.