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Testing Life-Saving Mission of Aerial Spray Unit on Fresh C-130J

From battling wildfires to tracking hurricanes, the C-130 transport aircraft has undertaken a diverse array of missions beyond its original role of transporting troops and supplies into combat zones since its inception. One such mission involves aerial spraying, where a Hercules disperses chemicals to eradicate disease-carrying insects like mosquitoes, prevent vegetation from concealing unexploded ordnance on test ranges, and address oil spills.

The 910th Airlift Wing, stationed at Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Ohio, serves as the Defense Department’s sole large-area, fixed-wing aerial spray unit. Recently, they advanced their operations by conducting tests on the new C-130J-30 Super Hercules to replace the current H model aircraft.

“This development is a significant achievement for Youngstown,” remarked Tech. Sgt. Thomas Wiesen, an aerial spray system maintainer, in a statement on March 28. “Transitioning to the J model is pivotal for our base, and validating our spray systems on the new airframe was crucial.”

The 910th is yet to acquire its own J models, with plans to phase out the H models over the next three years, commencing this summer. For the evaluation, reservists outfitted a C-130J-30 flown in from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, with an electronic modular aerial spray system (EMASS). Experts from the C-130 System Program Office at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex facilitated the adaptation of the J model’s electrical system to power the equipment and installed specialized troop doors to accommodate the spray booms.

The EMASS represents a technological leap forward, having been operationally utilized by the 910th in March 2023 for activities such as creating firebreaks to prevent wildfires and clearing unexploded ordnance at the Utah Test and Training Range. Unlike the older MASS from the 1980s, the computerized EMASS features electronically controlled valves, streamlining its operation.

“With the EMASS, you input your requirements, and the computer executes the tasks,” explained Staff Sgt. Zachary Wilson, an aerial spray maintenance technician. “The computerization is a game-changer, expanding our capabilities significantly.”

Considering that most spare parts for the older MASS are no longer in production, and the EMASS has a larger capacity of up to 3,500 gallons compared to the 2,000-gallon limit of the previous system, the 910th plans to replace all five legacy MASS units with new EMASS systems.

During the test flight on March 21, the C-130J-30, carrying a water-filled EMASS, was piloted by test pilots from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, and crewed by spray-qualified loadmasters from Youngstown’s 757th Airlift Squadron. Various assessments were conducted, including deploying droplet sample cards to evaluate the spray pattern and monitoring water dispersion on Youngstown’s runway.

While the J model demonstrated proficiency during the tests, there remain crew-related challenges to address. Unlike the H model, the J model requires three crew members, presenting obstacles related to redundancies in navigator and flight engineer positions.

“The J model currently shows comparable capabilities to an H model for aerial spray missions,” noted Lt. Col. Karl Haagsma, the chief entomologist with the 757th Airlift Squadron. “However, overcoming the challenges posed by redundant positions is crucial.”

Entomologists play a vital role in safeguarding service members’ health by studying insects and the diseases they may transmit. Since the inception of aerial spray missions in 1973, the 910th Airlift Wing has responded to significant events like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, where chemicals were sprayed over Louisiana to combat disease-carrying insects thriving in floodwaters post-storm.

“The targeted insects have the potential to spread diseases such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile virus, and malaria,” highlighted Lt. Col. Steve Olson, a 910th entomologist. “Effective control measures are essential to mitigate the risk of disease outbreaks.”

Flight operations are often conducted during dusk and nighttime, when mosquito activity peaks, flying as low as 150 feet to maximize the insecticide’s efficacy over the target area. The use of EPA-registered materials, including Naled, the primary component of the chemical Dibrom, is carefully regulated to ensure safety.

Col. Jeffrey Van Dootingh, a pilot who later assumed command of the 910th, recounted missions such as spraying oil-dispersing agents over the Gulf of Mexico post the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. While dispersants like Corexit expedite oil biodegradation, concerns persist regarding their environmental impact compared to oil alone.

The 910th’s aerial spray operations also encompass herbicide spraying over the Utah Test and Training Range to prevent vegetation from concealing hazardous materials. With the acquisition of new aircraft and advanced technology, the unit is well-equipped to uphold its mission objectives effectively.

“Having operated H models for over two decades, transitioning to the J model and validating our aerial spray system on it underscores our adaptability and readiness to elevate our spray mission capabilities,” remarked Master Sgt. Ethan Sanchez, a spray-qualified loadmaster with the 757th.