120th Airlift Wing upgrading C-130 fleet

The Montana Air National Guard is updating its fleet of C-130 Hercules planes from four-blade to eight-blade propellers.

“There are some huge benefits with the eight-blade props,” Lt. Col. Justin Hutchins, director of operations, said in a release. “The biggest ones are reduced maintenance cost, along with the ability to have better performance.”

The 120th Airlift Wing’s plane was sent to Mississippi for the upgrades the first week of November 2022, and landed back in Great Falls on Jan. 10.

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Over the next few weeks, maintenance crews will arrive in Great Falls to update the rest of the 120th fleet.

“The Montana Air National Guard is continuing to be relevant into the future,” Hutchins said in a release. “This gives us a long-term viable mission in the state and this allows us to help out.”

Currently, 120th pilots are training on the newly-updated planes.

Maj. Michael Tcherneshoff is among the first of the 120th pilots to fly with the eight-blade propellers, and flew the updated plane back from Mississippi.

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“The biggest difference you can notice is it’s a lot quieter,” Tcherneshoff said in a release. “This means modernization, it’s the way of the future.”

The 120th transitioned from fighter jets to the C-130, the first of which arrived in Great Falls in 2014.

The Air Force began testing the eight-blade propellers for the C-130H3 in 2010, according to the National Guard Bureau.

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The eight-blade composite propellers are shaped to provide additional thrust for take off and low airspeed range for the C-130, according to the Guard.

The legacy C-130 planes use four-blade propellers and the eight-blade propellers were designed to perform with more power and efficiency, according to the Guard.

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“A major limitation propellers have is the wave drag generated by shockwaves when the propeller tips go supersonic,” Dustin Marschik, a 418th Flight Training Squadron performance and flying qualities engineer, said in a 2010 release. “Newer propeller designs aim to reduce this wave drag, which improves efficiency and performance. The NP 2000 blade design incorporates a more efficient airfoil design, which theoretically will lead to improved performance in the takeoff and climb out phases of flight. The eight-bladed props are much more efficiently designed and utilize modern design and manufacturing methods which aim to optimize twist and blade sweep to improve performance.”

The blade was specifically designed for the LC-130 million in Antarctica and the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard was the only unit in the Air Force flying that plane in 2010, according to the Guard.

In 2021, some of the 120th’s older planes were transferred to Chile, Colombia and Romania.

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The older C-130 models at the 120th had been replaced by newer models beginning in June 2021.

The Air Force used the Foreign Military Sales program to transfer the aircraft with no cost to the Air Guard, according to the 120th.

During summer 2021, Col. Trace Thomas, 120th commander, told City Commissioners 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.

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, 2021.