Equipment interoperability dazzles at air show
BERLIN, Germany — It was interoperability in action May 17 at the Berlin Air Show when a Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) was loaded onto a C-130J.
The MEADS system is designed as a lightweight launcher capable of shooting down aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.
A new missile system on a new cargo plane — the fit was perfect as the lightweight truck-mounted system effortlessly entered the C-130J.
Such interoperability is no surprise to Air Force Maj. James Dignan, 403rd Wing, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The Reserve officer has flown the C-130J both as a "Hurricane Hunter" with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and tactically with the 815th Airlift Wing, both based at Keesler.
"By and large, it's a huge step ahead of what we flew with the older models," said Major Dignan, who has logged about 3,800 hours in the C-130E and H models, and about 250 hours in the J model, which he said flies higher, farther and faster than its predecessor.
Such capabilities have made the C-130J static display site a frequent stopping point during the trade show portion of the Berlin Air Show. The C-130J that corporate executives are visiting during the show still has the shine from the factory.
The aircraft had only 22 hours of flying time when Major Dignan and crew began their trip from Keesler and flew to New Foundland on its first mission to deliver an axle jack. From there, the aircrew flew to Cologne, Germany, to provide a demonstration of its capabilities to the German Lufwaffe.
The crew had much to show their German counterparts. The C-130J comes equipped with heads up display and flat-screen computers that have replaced many of the "steam gauge dials" found on older models. Major Dignan refers to it as the "Nintendo generation aircraft." Such technology has reduced the standard crew from five to three, eliminating the need for a navigator and flight engineer.
"It provides you with all the infrastructure you could ever want, when you want it, without asking," the major said while sitting on the ramp of his C-130J as demonstration aircraft screamed overhead performing low-level aerial maneuvers.
For example, gone are the days when responding to a message of a nearby threat would have the copilot locating the coordinates on a physical map and charting a new course to avoid a hazardous area. Now, the copilot simply logs in the coordinates into the computer and a red circles automatically earmarks the danger zone.
"This is a fun and very pilot-friendly airplane," Major Dignan later told two air show visitors as they sat in the cockpit.
But it's not just fun for pilots, according to Master Sgt. Ronnie Klipp, a crew chief with the 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Keesler.
"It's a dream. It's a very user-friendly airplane," he said while explaining the maintenance features. "It's like getting off a moped and getting on a Harley."
When something goes wrong on the aircraft, the computer alerts the crew what it is. If a repair is needed, many problems can be resolved through a "plug and play" system where the problem part is easily removed and sent to the factory for a replacement, usually requiring a wait of only one to two days if the part is not immediately available.
Such efficiency, said Sergeant Klipp, has reduced his workload by two-thirds. For example, plug and play reduces the time it takes to replace a throttle quadrant from about two days to 30 minutes.
The upgrade also has made the job easier for Chief Master Sgt. Michael Scaffidi, a loadmaster assigned to the 53rd WRS.
"There is no comparison," he said when asked to compare the C-130J with previous Hercules aircraft he's flown on.
For loading cargo, gone are the heavy tracks of metals wheels that had to be maneuvered into place to roll pallets of cargo onto the aircraft. Instead, the chief now can simply reach down, pick up a strip of smooth floor and flip it over to expose the wheels from the opposite side. Once the flip-up rails have been used to maneuver pallets into place, electronic side locks keep them securely in place, replacing the old locking system of cables and a hand crank.
Regarding humam cargo, Chief Scaffidi said they will be sure to enjoy an improved air conditioning system that can accurately modify temperatures by as little as a few degrees, replacing a system that's often a "hit and miss" attempt to regulate cabin temperature.
The C-130J is on display here until May 21 at the Berlin Schoenefeld Airport.