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Guard Airmen make splash at Great Alaska Aviation Gathering

By David Bedard | 176th Wing | May 9, 2018

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —

When Harold Wood, a retired Alaska Air National Guard senior master sergeant, entered a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II on display during the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering at Ted Stevens Airport, it was like boarding a time machine to the future.

Wood served as a C-123J Provider flight mechanic with the Guard’s 144th Air Transport Squadron before graduating to the C-130E and ultimately the C-130H Hercules cargo aircraft.

In terms of technology, Wood said, the C-123 is as far removed from the HC-130 as can be imagined. The Provider used “Double Wasp” radial piston engines assisted by wingtip turbojets to perform short takeoffs from Alaska’s austere airfields.

By contrast, the Combat King is pushed by compact turboprop engines churning out 4,637 shaft horsepower each, granting it plenty of thrust to catapult off short, unimproved Alaska Bush runways without the aid of jet power.

The Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson based HC-130 was one of three Alaska Air National Guard aircraft at the gathering, which also included a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft of  the 249th Airlift Squadron at JBER as well as a KC-135 Stratotanker of the 168th Wing at Eielson Air Force Base.

During Wood’s visit, he spoke at length with Tech. Sgt. Anthony Barker, 211th RQS loadmaster, about their shared experiences as well as the differences the HC-130J represents. While the elder Airman marveled at the new rescue aircraft’s digital cockpit and load-handling system, he pointed out how the foldable passenger seats and the litter stanchions are essentially unchanged from the E-model he flew with decades ago.

Newly fielded with the 211th RQS, Barker said this year’s gathering was the first time the aircraft – designed to support combat rescue operations – was showcased at a major local aviation event.

“The mission of the Combat King II is to locate survivors, assist with rescue operations, refuel enroute or on station, and drop pararescuemen and rescue supplies,” Barker explained.

Perhaps the most conspicuous difference between an HC-130 and a C-130 Hercules “slick” cargo aircraft is the Combat King’s refueling pods, which are designed to refuel HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters belonging to the 210th Rescue Squadron. Pararescuemen and combat rescue officers of the 212th Rescue Squadron can get to isolated survivors or aircrew by jumping out of an HC-130 or inserting via hoist from a Pave Hawk.

Barker said the J-model replaced the HC-130P/N Combat King. With scimitar blades driven by newer engines, the loadmaster said the J uses less fuel and has as much power with three engines as the older model had with four.

Exhibited next to the Combat King was a 168th Wing Stratotanker that rolled off the assembly line in 1960.

Air National Guard Capt. Corrie Elmes, 168th Wing KC-135 pilot, said he enjoyed fielding questions from community members young and old.

“The questions from the kids are the best part,” Elmes said.  “‘Do we have guns on the airplane?’ ‘Do we drop bombs?’ ‘Have I ever been shot at?’

“When you see them sit down in one of the pilot’s seats or sit back in the boom pod, their eyes light up,” the pilot continued. “It’s so exciting to see that drive start for wanting to fly.”

Based on a Boeing 707 jetliner platform, the aircraft drew the rapt attention of 11-year-old Levi Crawford.

The would-be aviator waited patiently to talk to Elmes, stating he had a strange question: Is the Stratotanker a Boeing? The captain explained it is indeed a Boeing, the same manufacturer of the airline 737s Crawford wants to fly when he earns his stripes and wings.

While most children shuffled to the back of the KC-135 where the cramped boom pod – the station where the refueling boom is operated – is, Crawford was more interested in the cockpit where the aircraft has been piloted for 47 years longer than he has been alive.

Whereas the HC-130 is designed to refuel combat search-and-rescue helicopters at low altitude, the venerable Stratotanker is built to refuel fighters, other jet aircraft and larger propeller-driven aircraft at higher elevations.

With its bull shark-like fuselage, towering T-tail, and a rear ramp opening that can swallow a tank, the 249th AS Globemaster and its cavernous cargo compartment provided the largest indoor mobile venue for visitors. Tables set up for Guard recruiters and the unit booster club took up little real estate inside the cargo bird.

Air National Guard Maj. Jason Guinnee, a C-17 pilot with the 249th AS, said the Globemaster fits between the usually forward-deployed C-130 and the enormous strategic-lift C-5 Galaxy.

“It can take more cargo than a C-130 can and a little bit less than a C-5, but it can get into almost all of the same locations a C-130 can,” Guinnee said.

The C-17 pilot said he was happy to take time greeting and talking with community members.

“It’s their airplane,” Guinnee said. “They pay for the fuel. We’re just lucky enough to be able to fly it.”

Elmes explained the significance of Alaska Air National Guard presence in the community.

“It’s important for us to get out there to show support for the community,” he said. “It also gives us recruiting opportunities for people to know what we do and where we are, and know we are their hometown Air Force.

“We also get to see the support other people give to us,” Elmes continued. “It’s humbling at times.”