Daines honors Piano Pat, WW2 veteran; visits Malmstrom, 120th Airlift Wing
Sen. Steve Daines was in town June 3 visiting Malmstrom Air Force Base, the 120th Airlift Wing and delivering copies of the Congressional Record to the family of Piano Pat and Ed Maierle, a World War II veteran who turns 100 on June 6, the anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
At the Sip n’ Dip, he presented the document to the daughters and granddaughter of “Piano Pat” Sponheim, who died May 4 after performing at the Sip since 1963.
Danelle Bell, her daughter said, “she’ll be missed.”
Though Piano Pat is “irreplaceable,” Sandi Thares, owner of the O’Haire Motor Inn and the Sip, said they’re planning a national search for the next “voice of the Sip n’ Dip” beginning mid-July with a live selection event in October.
Earlier in the day, Daines toured Malmstrom and discussed current modernization programs and operations with base officials.
The base is slated to be the first to receive the new MH-139 Grey Wolf to replace the aging UH-1N Huey currently in use at intercontinental ballistic missile bases.
The helicopter was initially expected to begin arriving at Malmstrom in September 2021, but the certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration has pushed that back to late 2022.
Last week, the Air Force released its proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and it does not include purchasing any MH-139 helicopters.
“The FY22 President’s Budget reflects a schedule slip to the MH-139A program, caused by delays in Boeing obtaining Federal Aviation Administration certification. The FAA requires the MH-139A to obtain an updated certification, because it is a commercial derivative aircraft with military unique equipment that requires certification. Technical issues discovered during contractor testing have caused the certification delay. The program office is currently evaluating courses of action and will have a better understanding of the program impact in the coming months,” the Air Force said in a statement.
The Air Force bought eight of the new helicopters in 2021, and had planned to purchase eight more in 2022.
Daines said that the budget is the president’s proposed budget but that Congress makes the final decisions on funding.
He said that he’d look at the contracting and scheduling to determine whether he’d push to add the funding back in for the helicopters in the upcoming budget.
Daines said that the Air Force will be able to start training on the new helicopters before the certification and full fielding of the new airframe and that at this point, there’s no risk to the mission or replacement program.
The proposed Air Force budget also calls for retiring a number of aircraft including 13 C-130H aircraft.
The 120th Airlift Wing in Great Falls of the Montana Air National Guard currently has eight C-130H aircraft and are the oldest in the fleet.
“Right-sizing the tactical airlift fleet is crucial as the Air Force looks to invest in modernized technology and systems that are both lethal and survivable against a peer threat. There are plans to reduce the number of C-130 units, but the number will be determined in future budgets. At this time, the Air Force is using its strategic basing process to determine which bases will receive new C-130J aircraft as they become available. No units will be closed. If a unit does not receive C-130Js to replace its C-130Hs, the Air Force will work with the Air National Guard to determine a suitable replacement mission that will carry them into the foreseeable future. With regard to Great Falls, the Air National Guard is currently working to finalize their FY21 C-130H Transfer Plan in which the Air Force expects newer model C-130Hs to replace the unit’s older C-130 models,” an Air Force spokeswoman told The Electric in an email.
The 120th had been in the running for the C-130J model aircraft but was not selected and will instead be receiving newer C-130H models, the first of which arrived June 2.
Col. Trace Thomas, 120th commander, told City Commissioners during their June 2 meeting that the wing would be receiving the newer aircraft throughout the summer to replace their eight and bring the average of the planes to 1992-1993 manufacture versus the 1970s model they’ve been flying.
Thomas said work is restarting on the $9 million improvement to the apron, which is additional ramp space needed to properly house the unit’s eight C-130s. The ramp was built for fighter jets, which are considerable smaller than the cargo planes. That project was funded through the defense budget several years ago.
Thomas said the wing is also working with Malmstrom to prepare for their July 2022 open house and air show to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Montana Air National Guard. The U.S. Thunderbirds are scheduled to perform.