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Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The fleet is complete
by Airman 1st Class Peter Thompson, 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- On a rainy day in April 2010, one of the Air Force's most reliable airframes was reborn for the 317th Airlift Group, when the unit's first C-130J Super Hercules was delivered by then-Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz.
The arrival of the first C-130J began the 317th AG's three-year transition from a 33-bird C-130H fleet into the largest J-model organization in the world.
On July 25, 2013, under equally dark and rainy skies, the final C-130J taxied onto a Dyess Air Force Base runway, announcing that the 317th Airlift Group's order of 28 C-130Js had been fulfilled. Air Force tail number 5726, piloted by Gen. Paul J. Selva, Air Mobility Command commander, marked the fleet's completion, bringing with it an increased mission capability for the group.
"The J-model offers substantial performance improvements over previous models, which will allow the 317th to efficiently and effectively accomplish our mission of saving lives and sustaining our nation's operations by training, mobilizing and employing these combat aircraft worldwide," said Col. Walter Ward, 317th Airlift Group commander. "The Air Force has entrusted these highly-capable aircraft to the hardworking, innovative men and women of the 317th, and we understand that--now more than ever--we have a responsibility to the American people to make the best use of our available resources."
For more than 60 years, the C-130 has served in every theatre of military operations and has supported humanitarian efforts in response to natural disasters worldwide. Lockheed Martin's newest variant, the C-130J, is the most advanced and fine-tuned model to date.
"The C-130J model is a modern marvel, it's better than our previous C-130s in almost every aspect," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Bolender, 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who served as the crew chief on the final J-model's flight to Dyess from the Lockheed Martin plant where it was conceived. "It's faster, stronger, cheaper to fly and easier to maintain. It has increased our productivity substantially because of how capable the aircraft is."
On Sept. 26, 2012, Dyess and the 317th Airlift Group said farewell to its final two C-130H models, ending the legacy that lasted more than 35 years, but solidifying the unit's relationship with its new and improved J-model aircraft.
With the sleeker and stronger C-130J, the 317th AG has become the hub of ground-breaking advancements in airdrop capabilities. In 2009, Dyess became the primary center for testing and training in low-cost, low-altitude airdrops. LCLA airdrops provide enhanced precision of provisions to troops operating in remote areas, allowing ground forces quicker and easier access to much-needed supplies. The 317th AG has also pioneered the testing and fine-tuning of joint precision airdrops.
"The 317th Airlift Group has become one of our go-to units for precision and reliability," said General Paul J. Selva, Air Mobility Command commander. "For the last 10 years, 317th Airmen and aircraft have been a critical resource to our forces overseas, bringing much needed support at amazing rates."
From December 2003 to April 2013, the 317th was continuously deployed overseas in support of combat operations. Over the course of 3,378 consecutive days, the group flew more than 57,000 sorties and recorded 95,000 flying hours, all while transitioning their fleet and aircrews from the C-130H to the C-130J.
While in route to deliver the 317th Airlift Group's last C-130J, Capt. Beau Tresemer, 39th Airlift Squadron, aircraft commander for the flight, said that looking forward, the 317th AG and C-130J will continue to be called upon as a combat-proven combination.
"Now, more than ever before, the 317th will be capable of providing critical resources to coalition forces and foreign countries, doing so for less in these constrained times," said Tresemer. "The C-130J is the future."
During a ceremony held at the base theater immediately following the aircraft's arrival, commemorating the fleet's completion, praise for the new and improved aircraft was high; but Selva, who served as the guest speaker for the event, focused on the Airmen whose efforts have capitalized on the potential wrought by the C-130Js.
"Although the C-130J is one of the most technologically-advanced aircraft we have, it's still just a piece of metal without Airmen," said Selva. "This aircraft is important, but even with everything it can do, it still can't have emotion or be innovative," Selva continued. "When we add our aircrews and crew chiefs to it, these aircraft can do anything."