GREAT FALLS — Not many planes come through Great Falls. They certainly don’t come or go as fast as the fighter jets that used to occupy the tarmac years ago, but now the Montana Air National Guard is going through another aircraft conversion.
They are transitioning from C-130 H1 models to newer H3 models, which are about 20 years newer and provide much more for the pilots.
To the untrained eye, they do look similar, but the 20-year difference is a huge upgrade for MT ANG.
One key to look out for is the custom license plates in the cockpit windows. Montana license plates go from 1 to 56 for the number of counties in the state, but these range from 74 to 96, signifying the year the plane was built.
That’s just a small detail compared to the actual difference 20 years makes in a plane.
“The big difference is the avionics package. We went from mostly analog to more of a glass cockpit that’s almost 20 years newer,” said Senior Master Sergeant Michael Halko.
Colonel Jason Green pilots the 130s and says they help MT ANG be more of an asset to the country and the city of Great Falls.
“I believe we’re the third-biggest employer in the city of Great Falls, so we have a lot of people working up here. It’s a good move to help give us longevity and for the economy,” Green said.
MT ANG still awaits several H3s to touch down in Great Falls before the transition is complete. Once that is finished, Green expects them to stay in Great Falls for some time and does not foresee any other transitions soon.