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Little Rock Airmen first to test C-130J upgrade

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

A team of U.S. Air Force Airmen conducted a C-130J training flight on Feb. 3, 2017, unlike any other at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The flight was the first in the Air Mobility Command conducted on an upgraded C-130J that featured an intricate suite of software and hardware improvements known as Block 8.1.

In November 2016, Lockheed Martin delivered the unique C-130J, outfitted with Block 8.1 upgrades, to the Home of Combat Airlift.

“We have put thousands of maintenance hours into this plane since it arrived,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Johnson, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. “We’re excited to see it finally up in the air.”

The Block 8.1 upgrade enhances GPS capabilities, communications systems, updated friend-or-foe identification and allows the C-130J to comply with worldwide air traffic management regulations. Additionally, the upgrade program will standardize aviation systems to improve interoperability.  

“This update will truly allow us to have unhindered global access,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kyle Gauthier, 61st Airlift Squadron C-130J instructor pilot and flight commander. “It will also provide pilots improved situational awareness, and a greater ability to communicate with command and control around the world.”  

Airmen from the 19th Airlift Wing and 314th Airlift Wing will team together on the only two Block 8.1 upgraded C-130J’s in the world over the next two years at Little Rock AFB. Loadmaster, pilots and maintainers will work with Lockheed Martin to report any bugs or potential issues.

“Flying with such a new system can be difficult, but it is exciting to know you’re shaping the future of C-130J operations worldwide,” Gauthier said.

The first sortie was successfully flown by C-130J loadmaster and pilots from the 61st Airlift Squadron and 41st Airlift Squadron.

If further testing proves successful, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom may integrate the Block 8.1 upgrade to enable global C-130J interoperability between the nations.