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A cornucopia of fin flashes

Col. Kirk Lear, 314th Airlift Wing vice commander

Col. Kirk Lear, 314th Airlift Wing vice commander

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- If you've been near 'The Rock' flightline lately, you may have noticed some C-130s that don't have "The Rock" or "Arkansas Air National Guard" painted on the tails. There's new color atop many of our gray transports, and those fin flashes read, "Maxwell," "Bragg-Pope" or "Youngstown" ... and as of this past Friday, "Texas."

These are the first four of 18 Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard mid-1980s-era C-130H2s that will continue to arrive through next autumn. The aircraft will come from 12 different locations and will be used to continue legacy training of Air Force and international crewmembers as our venerable C-130Es leave the force. Simultaneously, the Air Force Reserve will stand up the 355th Airlift Squadron, and hire on new Airmen to fly this mission in concert with the Arkansas Air National Guard's 189th Airlift Wing, which has been training crewmembers alongside the 314th for a quarter-century.

The age difference between our C-130Es and the new C-130H-2s is pretty significant - Lockheed matured many of the systems and avionics in those 20 years, and the newer planes are as different as a 1962 Corvette and its 1984 descendant. Negotiating this transformation means plenty of work for the maintainers and fliers of the 314th, who will operate and teach on these planes until the 355th is "full up" in manning in few years.

With the help of both the 189th and the 19th Airlift Wings, 314th Airmen are doing "differences" training to certify them in the new engines, radars, and other updates that the H-2 brings, topped off with hands-on maintenance and flying certifications. Our contract instructors at the Center of Excellence are also busy - they're learning and transitioning to the more modern systems too, and preparing to modify four C-130E simulators to C-130H before transitioning their students.

So the next year will bring a welcome challenge for the 314th, because while it's very common for Air Force C-130 maintainers and aircrew to be certified in more than one flavor of C-130, as both the 19th and 189th are every day, we've never had to teach new students in two different versions. While the colorful fin flashes on low-flying C-130s become more varied, our instructors and maintainers will be putting in a little more over-the-holidays study time to gear up for the H-2, readying them to grow the next generation that flies the "four fans of freedom."