Helena Independent Record: Montana Air National Guard to be first base for new C-130J Super Hercules, officials say

by Phil Drake

The Montana Air National Guard’s 120th Airlift Wing in Great Falls has been selected by the U.S. Air Force as the first base to receive the new C-130J model Super Hercules cargo aircraft, state and federal officials said.

The 120th will receive eight of the new aircraft as a one-for-one replacement of existing C-130Hs. The C-130J improves on the C-130H with additional payload capacity, more efficient engines, and improved performance.

The aircrafts are scheduled to arrive to Montana in 2026, Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a news release.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, made the announcement Tuesday, followed Thursday by GOP Sen. Steve Daines and Gianforte and the Montana Air National Guard.

“The brave guardsmen and women serving at Montana Air National Guard deserve top-flight tools to help keep our state and country safe,” said Tester, who is chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. He said he urged Air Force officials to make MANG the first.

Daines said he also advocated for Montana and credited the leadership of Gianforte and Maj. Gen. J. Peter Hronek, adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, for playing a critical role in the decision.

He said in an email it was great news for all of Montana.

“Our airmen and facilities are second to none in the country so I cannot think of a better place for this new and improved version of the C-130,” he said.

Gianforte also thanked Hronek, for his work to secure the new fleet.

“Under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Hronek, the men and women of the Montana Air National Guard continue to set the highest standards when it comes to being well-trained and well-equipped to serve our state and nation,” Gianforte said.

Hronek said the selection of MANG was a tribute to the continuous effort the airmen in Great Falls are putting into preparing for the J model aircraft.

“The 120th Airlift wing has distinguished itself since receiving the C-130H models in 2014,” he said in a news release. “Now they will continue their mission with excitement and vigor as they welcome the finest new fleet of C-130’s in the inventory. We are full of anticipation for their future accolades.”

The governor’s office noted the Defense Appropriations Act of FY22 and FY23 appropriated 32 C-130Js for the Air National Guard.

The director of the Air National Guard approved eight bases as potential locations for these aircraft and on Sept. 14, 2023, the governor announced Great Falls as a preferred location. MANG is based at Great Falls International Airport.

The Great Falls base has been selected as one of the four preferred locations. The three other locations are the 103rd Airlift Wing in Hartford, Connecticut, the 133rd Airlift Wing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Illinois.

The Air Force says the C-130J is the newest generation of the C-130 Hercules, which primarily performs the tactical portion of the airlift mission. It is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for air dropping troops and equipment into hostile areas.

It has a length of 97 feet, 9 inches, a wingspan of 137 feet and is 38 feet tall. It can fly at 417 mph at 22,000 feet and has a maximum payload weight of 64,000 pounds.