Futenma Marines get new air refueler

By David Allen, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, June 6, 2007

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa — The Marines’ next-generation air refueler landed here Monday, the first of nine to be delivered over the next 18 months.

And as it taxied past an aging fleet of KC-130Fs, built in the 1960s, the excitement felt by members of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152) was palpable. “I’m beyond excited,” said Lt. Col. Dwight Neeley, squadron commander. “We worked hard for more than a year to get a J model here.”

“They’re going to keep our operational ability up. They fly faster, higher and farther than the legacy aircraft — which are the oldest aircraft still flying in any of the services,” he said.

Among the major improvements are an enhanced air-to-air refueling system with a 50 to 100 percent higher fuel flow rate, state-of-the-art avionics, a computerized cockpit with heads-up displays, and night-vision capability.

The new planes also are about 20 percent faster and have a range more than 35 percent farther than the older aircraft.

“Operationally, this is pulling us into the next century,” Neeley said.

Maj. Ken Asbridge, who piloted the new KC-130J during the 8-hour flight from Kwajalein, said the difference in handling was phenomenal.

“It handles like a sports car,” he said. “The legacy aircraft was like driving an old, nice Cadillac.”

Asbridge and other members of the squadron spent the last four months at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., training to fly the new aircraft.

“There’s so much more information at the pilot’s fingertips,” he said, comparing the new aircraft with the old. “It’s computer-driven, where the old planes were very much seat-of-the-pants flying.”

He said he was especially impressed by the HUD, or heads-up display, which allows the pilot and co-pilot to view the computer-generated information without taking their eyes away from what’s happening outside the aircraft.

Asbridge also noted how much operational time will be saved by having the new K-Js, as they are called. Some critics of the legacy aircraft claim the older planes are living on borrowed time and are costing exorbitant amounts of money and man hours to keep up.