June 4, 2017 (by SSgt. Edward Eagerton) - The 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard’s first new HC-130J "Combat King II" aircraft arrived on June 3rd after receiving it from Lockheed Martin in Greenville, South Carolina.
Members of the 211th RQS and 176th AMXS, prepare a newly built HC-130J "Combat King II" aircraft #14-5815 for takeoff at the Lockheed Martin facility in Greenville, South Carolina on June 1, 2017. [ANG photo by SSgt. Edward Eagerton]
This HC-130J, manufactured by Lockheed Martin at their plant in Marietta, Georgia, is the first of four replacements to the HC-130N Combat Kings previously flown by the 211th Rescue Squadron, the last of which was transferred to Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, in January.
Members of the 176th Wing, including the 176th Wing commander, Col. Steven deMilliano, and the 211th Rescue Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Eric Budd, traveled to Lockheed Martin's plant in Greenville earlier in the week to sign for the new aircraft.
Modifications to the HC-130J include improved navigation, threat detection and countermeasures systems. The aircraft have a fully-integrated inertial navigation and global positioning system, and interior and exterior lighting compatible with night-vision goggles. They also have forward-looking infrared sensors, radar and missile warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers, satellite and data-burst communications, and the ability to receive fuel in flight via a Universal Aerial Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation.
The 176th Wing assumed the search-and-rescue mission from the 71st Air Rescue Service in 1990, at which time the Alaska Guard unit took control of their legacy search and rescue HC-130N aircraft, according to Budd.
"This is a pretty historical event," he said. "Fast forward 27 years later, and we're getting another set of HC-130s, this time being the HC-130J ‘Combat King II.'"
Budd explained that this HC-130J is the first one issued to an Air Guard unit.
"The Alaska Air National Guard is on the forefront of receiving these HC-130Js from Lockheed Martin," he said. "The 71st and 79th Rescue Squadrons were the first Active Duty squadrons to receive them, and now we're the first Guard unit to do the exact same thing. It's pretty significant."
In Greenville, members of the 176th Wing arrived days before the aircraft was to begin its journey back to Alaska to give personnel from the 176th Maintenance Group and the 211th RQS time to inspect the aircraft before acceptance. Then, on Thursday morning, deMilliano officially signed for the aircraft, thus transferring ownership to the Alaska-based unit.
"What's special about flying home with this aircraft," said deMilliano, "is there are significant moments in the Wing's history. You get to take a mission that the unit has been doing successfully for such a long period of time, and to upgrade to more modern and current equipment. And I know there's a long, proud history, not only with rescue, but also flying the Hercules in the Wing, and so it's nice to take a brand new airplane back. It gives us a tremendous capability not only for the state but also for the nation. This is tremendous what we get to do."
Within hours after signing, the plane was loaded and departed Greenville, bound first for Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico where other members of the 211th Rescue Squadron are currently undergoing training on the new J model.
To mark the occasion, the director of the Air National Guard, Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, joined them for the flight to New Mexico, which included him at the controls for both take off and subsequent landing at Kirtland AFB.
While in Kirtland, AFB, the plane's crew were able to meet with their fellow unit members and gave them a chance to see the plane they are currently training to operate in their respective roles.
"We have a great squadron," said Budd. "The training that we are going through here, and the training that maintenance is going through, is establishing the roadmap to be able to provide a capability on the federal side to our combatant commander to be able to go execute our mission downrange. But in addition to that, we're also providing an extended capability for the state of Alaska for search and rescue operations."
After a day of visiting fellow unit members training at Kirtland AFB, the HC-130J, loaded again with people and gear, took to the skies to make the flight home.
Once in Alaska airspace, two F-22 Raptors from the U.S. Air Force Reserves' 477th Fighter Group were training for an intercept mission. Seizing the opportunity, the fighters "intercepted" the HC-130J in conjunction with their training requirements, and then provided the Combat King II with an escort back to JBER.
Now back at home, the 176th Maintenance Squadron will begin a scheduled 90-day maintenance training process with the HC-130J, though their goal is to complete it in 60 days. Afterwards, the 211th Rescue Squadron Will again take to the skies conducting search-and-rescue missions across Alaska and continue training to support their federal mission.
"This aircraft and what we do within the 176th Wing represents the best of the Alaska Air National Guard," said Budd. "This aircraft represents much more than just the technological advances in this aircraft, it represents everything we do in the Wing. We have great people. This aircraft is more than just bringing it home for the 211th Rescue Squadron, it's bringing it home for the 176th Wing, the city of Anchorage, and the state of Alaska."