Tuesday, November 10, 2009

C-130 arrival in Poland marks end, new beginning

Capt. Tyler Robertson performs a walk around inspection prior to engine start up before piloting the last E-model C-130 Hercules Nov. 2, 2009, from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to Powidz Air Base, Poland. (Defense Department photo/Master Sgt. Scott Wagers)

by Master Sgt. Scott Wagers, Defense Media Activity-Ramstein

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- Ramstein Air Base Airmen delivered the base's last E-model C-130 Hercules Nov. 2 to Powidz Air Base, Poland, marking the end of 38 years of service to the U.S. Air Force but the newest addition to the Polish air force's blossoming fleet of strategic airlifters.

C-130 tail No. 1299 touched down and as the aircrew exited the aircraft Polish air force Brig. Gen. Tadeusz Mikutel, the 33rd Air Base commander, and Lt. Col. Mieczyslaw Gaudyn, 14th Airlift Squadron commander, welcomed the American Airmen with warm greetings and a firm handshake.

"The main task for the C-130s is to support our contingency operations in Afghanistan, Chad, Africa and everywhere Polish troops and supplies are needed," said Colonel Gaudyn, who along with his squadron's airmen will be flying the C-130.

Colonel Gaudyn, a former MiG fighter pilot who transitioned to the Antonov 26 cargo transport aircraft, said Poland has approximately 2,000 troops operating in Afghanistan's Gozni Province. Until now, all of these soldiers were transported into theater and subsequently resupplied using U.S. and Ukrainian airlift.

"Now we have much more capability to transport cargo and supplies to our troops which is very important for them, and much quicker," he said adding that Polish troops will no longer have to wait for available transportation from other nations.

"If you have your own (airlift), you can just react when there is a need," he said.

The primary air transport platform used by the Polish air force has been the Spanish-made CASA C-295, a twin turboprop tactical transport aircraft. The sleek fuselage design fits up to 70 passengers or a payload of approximately 7.5 tons but is not well suited for bulky cargo, Colonel Gaudyn said.

By comparison, the E-model Hercules can carry 90 fully equipped passengers or a payload of 17 tons.

Prepping Polish aircrews and maintainers for the transition to the larger Lockheed-Martin built Hercules has been accomplished with a blend of English language and specialty knowledge training at bases in Texas and Arkansas and through a type of work mentorship exchange between U.S. and Polish air force personnel.

In January 2009 a pair of C-130's and the 86th Wing commander from Ramstein AB visited Powidz AB to give personnel there an overview of the aircraft as a part of European Command's military-to-military program, said Capt. John Szczepanski, an affairs officer based at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland.

In March 2009, Powidz AB officials received the first of five donated U.S. C-130Es. Three months later, the Illinois Air National Guard's Peoria-based C-130 wing visited Powidz AB to conduct a two-week flying and maintenance engagement under the auspices of the state partnership program, Captain Szczepanski said.

In the seven months since the first C-130 arrived in Poland, aircrews have successfully flown more than 100 sorties.

C-130 tail No. 1299 is not a part of the four remaining donated aircraft slated for future delivery to Poland. It was transferred to Powidz AB under a Foreign Military Sales lease agreement between Air Force Materiel Command and Poland in support of building partnership capacities and teamwork amongst United States' allies.

According to Capt. Szczepanski, the entire donation of five totally refurbished aircraft, support equipment, supplies, training, and contracted logistics support, is valued at $120 million and 100 percent funded through bilateral military assistance grant money.

After the engines of 1299 came to a rest on the Powidz AB tarmac, Polish air force ground crew and commissioned officers moved in closer to unload pallets and lay eyes on their new plane. Some ventured inside the crew door to survey the interior while others posed for personal pictures in front of the plane.

The 14th Airlift Squadron currently has 25 qualified aircrew to fly the C-130E and growing.