Follow The Leader

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. David Speicher
  • 175th Wing Public Affairs
The sound was deafening as the roar 24 propellers filled the air on April 3 and 4. For the first time in years, the Maryland Air National Guard's 135th Airlift Group was launching a six-ship formation flight.

Even more impressive was the fact that all of the C-130J aircraft in the formation were Maryland aircraft - in effect the 135th, which has eight C-130s assigned, would have three-quarters of its aircraft flying at once.

The goal of the flights was to maintain crew currency and prepare for an upcoming Air Expeditionary Force rotation to southwest Asia, where they may be called upon to perform air drops of supplies to troops when they cannot land at an airfield.

The six planes took off at fixed intervals, with one rolling down the runway every 15 seconds. The formation then flew a low level route over the eastern shore of Maryland at 500 feet above ground level on their way to the Aegis drop zone at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Using Station Keeping Equipment, or SKE as it is better known, allows the aircraft to fly in formation even when weather or darkness prevents pilots from seeing other aircraft in their formation. Although in this case the weather was clear enough to see other planes, the SKE was used for practice.

"Flying formation in the J model is a lot different than flying the legacy C-130 in formation," said Lt. Col. Julie P. Curlin, A Flight commander, 135th Airlift Squadron. "The advanced technology in the systems in the J model allows the crews to reduce their workload and maintain a dedicated lookout. This is important in the low level environment."

According Master Sgt. Steven Blansfield, a crew chief with the 135th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, maintenance personnel started at the beginning of the week to get the aircraft ready. On the days of the flights, two different shifts worked on the aircraft. An early morning crew came in to open and launch the aircraft. A recovery crew was there to service and inspect the aircraft when they returned.

"It is definitely a great opportunity to generate six aircraft," said Curlin. "It says a lot about our maintenance and their ability to generate and maintain the C-130J. They have a lot experience since we have had these planes since 1999."

This will likely be one of the unit's last opportunities to fly a large formation using only its own aircraft. The Base Realignment and Closure commission has mandated the Maryland's C-130Js be transferred elsewhere, and the unit will lose the first two of these aircraft this June.