YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — For the first time in more than a decade, the 36th Airlift Squadron is getting a new batch of aircraft.

The unit’s C-130E will be replaced by the sleeker C-130H model in a fleet upgrade that may take shape as early as October 2006, 5th Air Force officials announced. The conversion also is expected to bring an additional 125 airmen and their family members to Yokota.

The age of the base’s existing planes was the driving factor behind the plan, proposed by the Department of the Air Force. The C-130Es now at Yokota are between 30 and 40 years old.

“While the model of the aircraft is scheduled to change, their mission will remain the same,” said Maj. Eric Hilliard, a 5th Air Force spokesman.

The Pacific’s only forward-based tactical airlift squadron maintains C-130 mission-ready aircrews that conduct theater airlift, special operations, aeromedical evacuation, search-and-rescue, repatriation and humanitarian-relief missions.

Hilliard said the C-130H is about 10 years younger than the E version and there are some minor mechanical differences, such as updated gauges. However, the aircraft’s size and capacity is the same. Because the models are so similar, Yokota’s pilots and flight crews won’t require any special training when the new planes arrive, Hilliard said.

The number of C-130s operating out of Yokota will remain at 14 — the standard size for a squadron — but the unit here is slated to receive three additional permanently assigned aircraft. Three planes from the 517th Airlift Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, augment the present fleet.

“There will actually be a slight decrease in traffic to and from the base once the newer fleet is in place, because of the decrease in flights from Elmendorf,” Hilliard said.

The 11 C-130Es at Yokota now have been assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron since October 1993. After the switch, they’re scheduled to be flown to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

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