Guard gets peek at new high-tech transport plane Md.'s 175th wing to get first of 8 next year

December 17, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Air National Guard met its future yesterday when a great gray airplane swooped onto the runway at Martin State Airport on a flight from Georgia. The C-130J, the transport plane for the coming century, had arrived.

Maryland's 175th Wing will be the first Air Force unit to get the high-performance, high-tech planes as operational aircraft when the first of eight is delivered in November.

The Guard is scheduled to receive the remainder by the end of 1999. The British Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force also will get them.

"For a pilot, it's a dream," said Maj. Michael C. Lunt of the 175th, one of the few local fliers to have piloted the new aircraft. "It has more power and a better-looking cockpit. It's a real treat to fly."

The C-130J will replace the C-130E, which has been the Air Force tactical airlift workhorse since 1955 and was heavily used during the Vietnam War.

Both are called Hercules and look alike from the outside, but "the only thing they kept is the skin," said Brig. Gen. David A. Beasley, the wing commander.

The wing span of the C-130J is 132 feet, 7 inches; the fuselage is 99 feet, 6 inches long; and the maximum weight, with fuel and cargo, is about 155,000 pounds.

The most visible external difference between the two versions is the six-bladed curved propellers that, with the new engines, provide more power and speed than the old four-blade propellers.

Inside, almost everything is different. The C-130J has computer technology and sophisticated cargo-handling capability.

Arlen Rens, a retired Marine pilot who is now a Lockheed Martin test pilot, flew the plane to Baltimore yesterday to introduce it to the 175th and to U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, whom the Guard credit for having the planes assigned to Maryland.

"This plane has a 25 percent increase in range, 3,000 miles without refueling, 30 percent more cargo load, decreased maintenance because we can run the engines at two-thirds power which gives them extended life," Rens said.

He explained the advances represented by the C-130J as the senators sat in the futuristic cockpit, which includes a display that is the first of its kind on a military transport.

The display is a screen in front of the pilot that shows operating details. The pilot can see through the display without having to look down at instruments. That is useful when flying into poor airstrips, such as in Africa and the Balkans.

The C-130J operates with two pilots and a load master, who manages cargo operations; the C-130E has a five-member crew. A minimum of 12 combat-ready crews will be trained.

"As the Air Force downsizes, we'd be out of business with just the E models," said Lt. Gen. James F. Fretterd, the Maryland adjutant general.

In praising the efforts of Sarbanes and Mikulski "in a five-year fight," the adjutant general said the senators blocked attempts by Air Guard units in other states, particularly Oklahoma, to "end run" Maryland and get the new planes for themselves.

"Our senators did it or we'd have been out in the cold," he said.

Pub Date: 12/17/97

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