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Hartford - The adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard says he feels confident the state now has a reliable flying mission in place after eight years of uncertainty over what, if any, aircraft would be based at Bradley Air National Guard.
Maj. Gen. Thaddeus Martin said he realized last November that there was shrinking support in the Air Force for the new C-27 Spartan cargo planes, which Connecticut had expected to receive this year.
So he recommended the state shift gears and pursue an older, more established program - C-130H cargo planes - for its permanent mission.
"It's a venerable mission. It's going to be around for a while. It provides the stability the unit needs," Martin said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The 103rd Airlift Wing of the Connecticut National Guard received the first two C-130H cargo planes in September, and a third is expected Monday.
Ultimately, Martin expects eight will be based in East Granby in 2014. Meanwhile, the Air Force announced in September it would invest $12 million to upgrade the hangar to house the planes. Additional federal funding is expected.
Given the automatic budget-cutting and general uncertainty surrounding federal money, the state's decision to embrace the C-130H planes is seen as a way to help secure the more than 1,100 employees authorized for the Connecticut Air National Guard, including 345 full-time positions at the East Granby and Orange facilities.
Connecticut's unit has been in limbo since the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission's recommendation in 2005 to strip the fleet of its A-10 fighter planes. Since then, they've been flying C-21 transport aircraft as part of a "bridge mission."
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, visited the Guard's facilities last week to see the two C-130Hs and meet with Guard members.
"The arrival of the first two planes is tangible proof that the Connecticut Air Guard is going to have a really solid flying mission for many years to come," Courtney said.C-130Hs, also known as the C-130 Hercules, operate throughout the Air Force, serving in a wide range of operational missions.
Courtney, who flew on a C-130H during his visits to Afghanistan, called the aircraft the "workhorses for international missions." Currently, some are flying in the Philippines, delivering supplies and transporting people in areas ravaged by the recent typhoon.
The aircraft can carry utility helicopters, six-wheeled armored vehicles, pallets of cargo and military personnel, among other things. They can airdrop loads up to 42,000 pounds.
Besides Connecticut, air guards in neighboring Rhode Island and New York have versions of C-130s. Across the country, there are more than 20 units, Martin said.
"The demand for them is so strong. I think there's going to be plenty of missions to go around for everybody," Courtney said. "These are not sort of niche aircraft that have only one capacity. They're going to be versatile."
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who had originally lobbied to get the C-27 Spartans, said he believes Connecticut's air mission is more secure with the C-130s.
"I've been intricately involved in making sure that we had a mission. And I think, quite frankly, the C-130 is a great mission. It's one of the better missions that we could have had and it's proceeding," he said.
Martin acknowledges there "are going to be challenges" with the new mission, "just like there is sustaining any weapons system."
Connecticut's newest planes will turn 40 years old in 2014, he said.
The Air Force, however, has invested money in modifying the aircraft to extend the life by 38,000 flight hours, which, based on use, could add 30 years to a plane's life.
Martin predicted the aircraft will probably require modernization over time, such as engines and avionics.