Leading the Way: First Reserve unit to use C-130J upgrade

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kalee Sexton
  • 913th Airlift Group

Airmen in the 913th Airlift Group at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, were part of the first Reserve unit to be trained on the Block 8.1 upgrade for the C-130J Super Hercules.

The Block 8.1 upgrade boosts navigation and inter-communication systems, updates friend-or-foe identification and standardizes aviation systems, which will improve interoperability across the fleet. The modification also allows the C-130J to comply with worldwide air traffic management regulations.

Previously, the block 6.0 navigation system only allowed limited use of GPS area navigation, or RNAV, forcing the aircraft to primarily utilize legacy ground based systems for navigation.  With the update, the pilots can now fully utilize RNAV arrivals, approaches, and departures, allowing for more direct paths outside the coverage of navigation beacons.

“The navigation performance increases are significant. Block 8.1 added new navigation systems that allow us to execute area navigation approaches, arrivals, and departures into airfields that we previously had to use legacy navigation systems to get into and out of,” said Maj. Eric Dueno, 913th Operations Support Squadron director of tactics. “This allows for us to fly more fuel efficient and quicker routes. The update also added new upgraded GPS receivers to the aircraft that allow this higher level of navigation performance.”

The upgrade was initially tested in 2017 when Little Rock’s active duty 61st Airlift Squadron conducted a training flight testing the first Block 8.1 upgraded C-130J. Over the following two years, the 19th and 314th Airlift Wings also tested the system, working with Lockheed Martin to report issues.

Senior Master Sgt. Edwin Wiegand, Guidance and Control for the 913th Maintenance Squadron, was part of the first class of Airmen who trained with the Lockheed engineers in 2017. Many of the Block 8.1 software improvements boost efficiency on several levels, he said.

“The new software in the control computers display information in a way that gives pilots more accuracy for airdrops,” he said. “The power-up modes are also more efficient because the crew can power on just lights, for example, without having to power the whole plane. It allows quicker loading and unloading, which saves money in the long run.”

As far as day-to-day impacts, Senior Airman Isaac Martinez, a Communication and Navigation technician with the 913th MXS, said 8.1 digitized the aircraft’s interphone system, bringing it more up to date.

“This adds a lot of functionality, instead of it being turn knobs, which are more prone to failure. The networks also allow you to have multiple calls set up where people within the aircraft can only hear each other — like only people in the flight deck, rather than everyone on board the aircraft, for example — which is more secure,” Martinez said.

Master Sgt. Michael Murray, noncommissioned officer in charge of Communication and Navigation with the 913th MXS, said he believes Airmen from Little Rock’s Reserve unit will be called on to help train members of the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, once they get the upgrade.

“As Reservists, we know we have to maximize training with minimal time, so I do see us going down there to help them when they start getting upgraded J’s,” he said. “We are more than willing to facilitate training to help provide strategic depth to the force.”

Dueno, who went through the training in September and October, 2020, agreed, saying that the unit will use its skilled personnel to help teach other Airmen what they need to know about the update.

“We are a highly experienced unit, with a high percentage of instructors that have experience flying advanced navigation systems in their civilian jobs,” Dueno said. “As with any upgrade and change there are some growing pains, but the highly experienced pilots of the 913 AG will help push this upgrade forward and will learn to utilize Block 8.1 to the highest level.”