Great Falls Tribune: Some good news about MANG missions

The big sky over Great Falls will have a different look in the not-too-distant future when the Montana Air National Guard exchanges its speedy F-15 fighter jets for the lumbering workhorses of the Air Force, C-130H cargo planes.

Northcentral Montanans over the past few years have learned to look far ahead of the roar in order to spot Air Force planes as they sped across the sky. The C-130s are much bigger and easier to see, plus they’re slower — so the sight will be closely associated with the sound.

Different, in other words, but everyone agrees it will be good.

The transition — probably in less than two years — is great news for MANG and for northcentral Montana, and thanks are due to a host of people who made it happen, including the congressional delegation, community leaders and the Air Force hierarchy.

“Eight C-130s is a big deal,” said Sen. Jon Tester, who joined with fellow Democratic Sen. Max Baucus Friday in announcing confirmation of the change, “because we now know that MANG will continue to have a manned flying mission that maintains jobs here on Gore Hill.”

The mission should be enduring, he said, because “even in a changing military, there’s always a need to move cargo — both troops and equipment.”

The F-15s roaring to and from the Great Falls International Airport runways are scheduled to be transferred to Fresno, Calif., where they’ll join the California Air National Guard starting this August and completely by March 2013. If all goes well, the C-130s could arrive later that year.

The news is especially sweet for two reasons:

  • The 19 departing F-15s had been scheduled to be replaced on Gore Hill with a small, four-plane fleet of C-27J transport planes and a satellite data-analysis unit that would have maintained roughly the same level of staffing at MANG, but both of those missions fell out of consideration here as the Department of Defense announced major budget cuts last week.
  • The eight-plane fleet of C-130s will require, again, roughly the same level of staffing as the F-15s.

At the Friday news conference, both Baucus and Tester stressed that while they didn’t know all of the Air Force’s considerations in switching the cargo planes to Montana, they had no doubt it was at least partly because of MANG’s excellent reputation and the strong and well-known community support of the military mission in northcentral Montana.

“What happened in the last week was based on building blocks put in place over the last few years,” Tester said.

It is truly a credit to the community and to all of those who have labored mightily to preserve missions here.

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