LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Two new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft buzzed over the Kentucky Air National Guard Base Saturday before taxiing to stop on the flight line under the spray of water cannons while a crowd cheered their arrival.
The event marked a new era in aviation for one of the most decorated units in the U.S. Air Force. The pair of state-of-the-art aircraft are among eight J-model planes the Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing will receive over the next 11 months. They replace eight aging C-130 Hercules H-model aircraft that entered service in 1992 and have seen duty all over the globe. The last H-model departed the 123rd Airlift Wing Sept. 24 to make way for the Js.
"What a great day today is," Gov. Andy Beshear told an audience of more than 100 servicemembers attending the welcome ceremony. "The reputation of the 123rd Airlift Wing is known throughout this country. And today, instead of just getting a certificate, you're getting validation in the form of the C-130J Super Hercules coming here to Louisville. What a great arrival for our premier airlift unit.
"These aircraft are being placed in the right hands — those that have the reputation of the Kentucky Air National Guard. I can't wait to see, with the most technologically advanced equipment, how much more we can do."
The C-130J Super Hercules is the latest version in the Air Force arsenal, with modern instrumentation, more efficient engines and a stretched fuselage for additional payload capacity. It is among the most versatile aircraft ever built, supporting a broad range of missions from special operations to air cargo with capabilities that allow it to land on austere runways where other airlifters can't go.
The wing's commander, Col. Bruce Bancroft, said that extra payload capacity is significant, with two additional pallet positions on top of the normal six.
"So what's the big deal about two more pallet positions? Well, that's thousands of pounds of additional combat resupply equipment for our warfighter on every single sortie," he said.
"That's thousands of pounds of additional food, water, shelter, blankets and relief equipment on every single sortie for our citizens who have been displaced from their homes due to hurricanes, floods, wildfires and earthquakes — citizens whose worlds have been turned upside down, are cold, tired and hungry, and can't afford to wait. The C-130J delivers the capability to meet that immediate need, be it across the commonwealth, across the nation or across the ocean.
He said the aircraft features a payload of over 44,000 pounds, six-bladed composite propellers, a maximum speed of 410 miles an hour, and a capacity for 97 litters of medical evacuees, 128 combat troops or 92 paratroopers.
In addition to the two aircraft that arrived Saturday, the wing is to receive three J-models from existing Air Force inventory next year, while the remaining three will be built especially for the unit by Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Georgia. Delivery of the final plane is scheduled for next September.
Kentucky was selected to receive the aircraft last year following a lengthy competition among Air National Guard units in eight states. After evaluating a number of factors, including existing facilities, aircraft maintenance capability and a unit's history of operational missions, the National Guard Bureau, Air Mobility Command and U.S. Air Force announced that J-models would be deployed to wings in Kentucky, Georgia, Texas and West Virginia.
"I can tell you that the competition for these planes was intense," Sen. Mitch McConnell told the audience. "And it is extremely gratifying to see this come together. So I want to thank you for all you do to make it possible. This is incredibly important to our state and to our national reputation. It's an honor for me to join you and participate in all this."
Kentucky's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Hal Lamberton, thanked McConnell for his assistance to the Kentucky Guard over the years, saying he was "very much instrumental in our receiving the aircraft."
Nonetheless, Lamberton said Kentucky earned its J-models with the wing's long history of outstanding service.
"Even giving deference to our congressional efforts, it's really by virtue of your all's efforts that enabled us not just to be competitive, but to subsequently be selected," he told the audience.
"From the bigger Air Force perspective, they would only make such an award of this new airframe to a quality unit who has proven itself both in overseas operations, domestic operations and the track record of the organization itself. And that's due to the quality of the folks that we have here."
Compared to older C-130s, the J-model climbs faster and higher, flies farther at a higher cruise speed, and takes off and lands in a shorter distance.
Major system improvements include an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics, color multifunctional liquid crystal and head-up displays, and state-of-the-art navigation that includes a dual inertial navigation system with GPS. The aircraft also features fully integrated defensive systems, low-power color radar, a digital moving map display, new turboprop engines with six-bladed all-composite propellers and a digital autopilot. Improved fuel, environmental and ice-protection systems, and an enhanced cargo-handling system round out the new transport aircraft.
Kentucky's aircraft will all be named for famous thoroughbred horses. The first two honor American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown victor, and Silver Charm, who took the Derby and Preakness titles in 1998.
The 123rd Airlift Wing is one of the most decorated units in U.S. Air Force history, with 19 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. Its members have served on every continent over the past two decades and regularly deploy around the world in support of humanitarian missions and combat or combat-support operations. Currently, about 70 Kentucky Air Guardsmen are supporting COVID-response efforts at hospitals and inoculation sites across Kentucky.