Train­ing spot­lights crews that keep C-130s fly­ing

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - EMMA PET­TIT

When Air­man 1st Class De­vyn Freeze first climbed in­side the cold, cav­ernous belly of a C-130 air­craft, she felt com­pletely lost.

Freeze, now a load­mas­ter with the 61st Air­lift Squadron at Lit­tle Rock Air Force Base, said it took “a good month” to as­sign mean­ing to ev­ery gauge, gad­get and tool in­side the 97-foot-long and 38-foot­tall plane.

More than a year and a half into her train­ing, she won­ders, “How do I have all this in­for­ma­tion in my head?”

Freeze, a sergeant, a pi­lot and a co-pi­lot took a train­ing flight around Arkansas on Tues­day and al­lowed mem­bers of the me­dia to tag along. They were “yank­ing and bank­ing,” mak­ing mul­ti­ple touch­downs and liftoffs with lit­tle time in be­tween, Freeze ex­plained be­fore she passed around mo­tion-sick­ness bags.

(An Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette re­porter was thank­ful for that bag about two hours into the flight.)

Four planes flew a low-level route, dip­ping to be­tween 300 and 1,000 feet above the ground. The goal was to prac­tice load­ing and Air­man 1st Class De­vyn Freeze,

un­load­ing air­men and equip­ment, in­clud­ing a Humvee, from the fuse­lage.

As the air­craft zigged and zagged over Arkansas ter­rain, rivers, roads, cars and their driv­ers ap­peared de­cep­tively close.

“I swear I could reach out and touch it,” Freeze said be­fore she stood to peer out of the cock­pit’s wind­shield. She bobbed her head as mu­sic from a playlist ti­tled “chill” streamed through her head­phones.

Freeze’s job was to over­see ev­ery­thing in the fuse­lage and sup­port the co-pi­lot and the pi­lot, Capt. Zack Ratkovich. The job re­quires “sit­u­a­tional aware­ness” and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, she said. It was Ratkovich’s first time fly­ing that plane with a co-pi­lot and crew.

“It went well,” he said af­ter the plane’s fi­nal touch­down. “Noth­ing’s bro­ken. I’d say that’s a win.”

The squadron will fly other flights while par­tic­i­pat­ing in a week­long “Fly In.” Air­craft from air bases in Ram­stein, Ger­many; Yokota, Japan; Dyess, Texas; and other lo­ca­tions are con­gre­gat­ing at Lit­tle Rock Air Force Base in Jack­sonville for train­ing and skill build­ing.

Later in the week, those air­craft will en­gage in an “Ele­phant Walk,” a mass for­ma­tion flight, said spokesman 2nd Lt. Hunter Rininger.

Lit­tle Rock Air Force Base, known as the “Home of the Her­cules,” hosts the world’s largest C-130 fleet for the U.S. De­part­ment of De­fense.

There are about 58 C-130s on the “Team Lit­tle Rock” flight line at a given time, in­clud­ing 40 of the newer C-130J “Su­per Her­cules” model, man­u­fac­tured by Lock­heed Martin Corp., ac­cord­ing to the base’s most re­cent eco­nomic-im­pact state­ment.

The C-130J is what Freeze called her “of­fice” on Tues­day. It’s “the most di­verse and ca­pa­ble air­craft in the Air Force,” Rininger said.

Com­pared with the older mod­els, the C-130J has pro­pel­lers with six blades in­stead of four, and the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments re­move the need for a flight en­gi­neer and nav­i­ga­tor on board, Rininger said.

In­stead, those func­tions are built into the plane through a dig­i­tal map, weather up­dates and other up­grades. These du­ties are shared among a smaller flight crew — of­ten just a pi­lot, co-pi­lot and a load­mas­ter, who is re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing that goes on or off the air­craft.

“If any­thing isn’t work­ing as well as it should, [the tech­nol­ogy] lets us know,” Freeze said.

As al­ways, “there’s a backup to the backup to the backup” if some­thing doesn’t work like it should, she added.

And, Freeze noted, the older mod­els of­fered just a bucket for a bath­room. The C-130J, which can sup­port up to 92 com­bat troops or 64 para­troop­ers, is equipped with a flush­ing toi­let and a pri­vacy screen.

“We’re blessed, here,” Freeze said with a smile.

As for du­ties, the Her­cules and Su­per Her­cules are among the most valu­able play­ers of mil­i­tary air­craft. They do it all: cargo, food and sup­ply drops, search and res­cue, aerial re­fu­el­ing and med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion.

The in­side of a C-130J, of­ten crowded with ham­mocks and sleep­ing air­men, is roomy enough to fit a firetruck, Rininger said.

It’s an ideal ves­sel for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, ac­cord­ing to a Lock­heed Martin fact sheet. More than 330 C-130Js are ei­ther de­liv­ered or have been or­dered world­wide, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

Freeze said that’s what makes her job so ap­peal­ing: help­ing peo­ple who need it, like vic­tims of last year’s Hur­ri­cane Irma. Also, wit­ness­ing the sun­rise and sun­set on the same day, she said.

As the air­craft cruised over brown hills Tues­day, Freeze played videos of per­son­nel drops that she had recorded on her phone.

Para­chutes mush­roomed, then dis­ap­peared into a square of blue sky out­lined by an open door. Be­fore a drop, stand­ing toes to the edge of a ramp with the world 500 feet be­low is “the most ex­hil­a­rat­ing feel­ing,” Freeze said.

Still, she said, her job isn’t that dif­fer­ent from any other po­si­tion.

“You get up, you go to work,” Freeze said, be­fore she was cut off. An alarm was beep­ing. She grabbed a man­ual, flipped through it and told the pi­lot what he needed to know.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/EMMA PET­TIT

a load­mas­ter, works with tie-downs Tues­day dur­ing a train­ing flight on a C-130J out of Lit­tle Rock Air Force Base in Jack­sonville. The base will par­tic­i­pate in a week­long “Fly In” that in­cludes air­craft from around the world.

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