PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Florida --
Push button start, seat warmers and autonomous driving features are becoming more and more common in vehicles. Depending on your brand of choice, these features might even be considered standard. Give it time and these features will eventually be overshadowed by even newer technology as the automotive industry continuously evolves.
But no matter how flashy these new models are when they roll off the production line, most people never forget their first car. Maybe your first ride had some rust and needed some extra attention now and again. No bells and whistles, but it got you from point A to point B and it was yours to care for.
Similarly, Reservists with the 920th Rescue Wing will never forget the HC-130 P/N Combat King, a combat-search-and-rescue capable aircraft with decades of lifesaving history behind it. The 920th RQW in particular has maintained and operated a few birds dating back to the 1960s and has still managed to save more than 3,000 lives over the years.
During the month of December, the unit bid farewell to the remaining HC-130P/N aircraft by flying them to their final resting spot at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.
“I still have my first car,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas “Nick”, 920th RQW Inspector General of Inspections and 39th Rescue Squadron navigator. “Even though it’s an inanimate object, it’s still something that has meaning to me because of the memories. Many careers have started and ended with this aircraft.”
Nick spent more than 20 years flying on the legacy aircraft as a navigator and has been with the rescue wing since the early 2000’s. He said watching the plane he spent so much time on being replaced is bittersweet.
“It’s bitter in the sense that this is it for the plane,” said Nick. “It’s sweet in sense that we get to go on to the next phase with the J model, which will be more efficient.”
The HC-130J is a result of the HC/MC-130 recapitalization program and replaces Air Combat Command’s aging HC-130P/N fleet as the dedicated fixed-wing personnel recovery platform in the Air Force inventory. It’s a four-engine turboprop tactical transport aircraft with hose and drogue aerial refueling, airdrop, and command-and-control capabilities. Modifications include the ability to receive fuel in-flight, a nose-mounted electro-optical/infrared sensor and a combat systems operator flight deck station.
The HC/MC-130J brings additional countermeasure dispensers, high-altitude ramp and door hydraulics, crash-worthy loadmaster scanner-position-seats and more. Because the J model brings so many changes, nearly every member in the 39th Rescue Squadron will undergo either a transition education course or initial qualification course before they’ll be fully qualified to fly it.
Two aircrew positions are being eliminated as a result of the enhancements, flight engineers and radio operators. Airmen currently filling these roles will have to cross-train into new career fields or retire depending on their tenure.
Senior Master Sgt. Mike, 39th RQS Flight Engineer, is one of the Reservists adapting to this transition. Over the course of 25 years with the 920th RQW, Mike has successfully logged almost 5,000 hours of flight time and has multiple deployments to his name. Over the next several months he will prepare for his new role as the unit’s Wing Occupational Health and Safety Manager.
“I think change is good,” said Mike. “I’d be silly to say I didn’t see this coming with all the advancements in technology. Luckily for me, I’ve been fortunate to have such a long-winded career doing this.”
The 920th will receive a replacement fleet of the new HC-130J model in the Spring of 2020.