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Anthony Clark, 10, and his dad, Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaun Clark, check out the new C-130J's cockpit Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base's flight line. The first of 14 new cargo planes arrived with Gen. Roger Brady, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, at the controls. Anthony said he wants to join the Air Force when he is old enough.

Anthony Clark, 10, and his dad, Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaun Clark, check out the new C-130J's cockpit Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base's flight line. The first of 14 new cargo planes arrived with Gen. Roger Brady, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, at the controls. Anthony said he wants to join the Air Force when he is old enough. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

Anthony Clark, 10, and his dad, Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaun Clark, check out the new C-130J's cockpit Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base's flight line. The first of 14 new cargo planes arrived with Gen. Roger Brady, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, at the controls. Anthony said he wants to join the Air Force when he is old enough.

Anthony Clark, 10, and his dad, Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaun Clark, check out the new C-130J's cockpit Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base's flight line. The first of 14 new cargo planes arrived with Gen. Roger Brady, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, at the controls. Anthony said he wants to join the Air Force when he is old enough. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

Airman 1st Class Paul Driscoll, a hydraulics specialist, marshals in the new C-130J Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base's flight line.

Airman 1st Class Paul Driscoll, a hydraulics specialist, marshals in the new C-130J Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base's flight line. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

Hallie Kinion, 3, on the shoulders of her dad, Capt. Troy Kinion, plugs her ears as the new C-130 J model pulls into its parking space Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base's flight line. Kinion, an officer assigned to the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, said that the new plane will be the primary aircraft used for the unit's medical mission.

Hallie Kinion, 3, on the shoulders of her dad, Capt. Troy Kinion, plugs her ears as the new C-130 J model pulls into its parking space Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base's flight line. Kinion, an officer assigned to the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, said that the new plane will be the primary aircraft used for the unit's medical mission. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — It wasn’t a typical spring day on Ramstein’s flight line Tuesday.

Hundreds of spectators squinted and shaded their eyes while photographers scrambled for the best shot.

The attraction was a Ramstein-owned C-130 Hercules aircraft that wasn’t decades old.

The 86th Airlift Wing and the 37th Airlift Squadron welcomed its first C-130J Super Hercules with much fanfare. Air Force officials cut the ribbon on a just-completed $22 million dual-bay aircraft maintenance hangar and then turned to watch the Air Force’s top commander in Europe, Gen. Roger Brady, bring the new plane home.

With the J-model’s long-anticipated arrival, Ramstein becomes the first active-duty Air Force unit overseas to operate the J-model. Marines on Okinawa already fly the aircraft.

Ramstein expects 13 more J-models from Lockheed Martin over the next year, according to Lt. Col. Craig Williams, 37th Airlift Squadron director of operations. The base will phase out its fleet of 16 C-130E Hercules, he said.

Williams rode in the cockpit with Brady on Tuesday from Spangdahlem Air Base, the last leg of the C-130J’s journey from Marietta, Ga., where the planes are being produced.

Those familiar with the J-model say it can fly faster, higher and farther than its predecessor, and Williams said that performance edge was immediately evident.

"It’s almost like having a fifth engine on that plane," he said, gesturing toward a C-130E. "It’s like a rocket ship when it takes off."

Overshadowed, but not forgotten, was the elderly C-130E, parked on the flight line with its nose facing that of the J-model.

Flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Arturo Zavala, 35, took his last ride in the plane Monday night, a bittersweet flight, he said.

With the high-tech capabilities of the J-model, C-130 flight engineers and navigators are no longer part of the crew configuration.

The different makeup in the cockpit is one of the most dramatic changes C-130 pilots at Ramstein will face as they transition to the J-model, said Capt. Sarah Santoro, 31, a C-130 pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron.

"On that dark and stormy night … when Murphy’s Law strikes once again, it will be interesting to see how" those dynamics play out, she said.

Santoro, who’s been flying the Hercules for just over six years, wonders if the new plane will be as rugged and durable as the venerable E-model.

"You could fly with half the things not working," she said.

The J-model will go on its first training flight Thursday, Williams said. But months of training lie ahead for the squadron before aircrews take the plane on a real-world mission.

"I can’t wait to take the airplane out on the road, stretch her legs out and see what she can do," Santoro said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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