Massive C-130 lands at Havre airport
Also opens airport for accepting large charter and private planes
Last updated 1/19/2023 at 11:57am
Though the C-130 Hercules tactical aircraft that landed at the Havre City-County Airport Wednesday only stayed on the runway about 10 minutes before the flight crew took off again to continue the training run, that historic moment was almost four years in the making.
The C-130 and its crew are part of the Montana Air National Guard wing based in Great Falls, and the aircraft is, as far as airport manager Tony Dolphay can recall, the largest airplane to ever land at the Havre airstrip.
"It's the biggest plane that I know of," said Dolphay, who is also a long-time Havre pilot and owner with his wife, Katherine, of the airport's fixed-base operation, MRKT Aviation Fuel. "... They called this morning and said they'd be leaving Great Falls and getting here about 12:30 or 12:45."
But it was four years ago when Montana Air National Guard Lt. Col. Rob Efinger, whose day job is technician for the commuter airline Cape Air, helped Dolphay make connections to establish the Havre airport as a location for the training runs.
Dolphay said that in November 2019, three U.S. Air Force technicians spent two days at the airport testing the two landing strips for their capacity to safely handle the size and weight of the 120th Airlift Wing's C-130 H-models which are 38 feet 10 inches tall and 97 feet 9 inches long, with a 132-foot, 7-inch wingspan. They can carry up to 42,000 pounds of cargo, with a maximum take-off weight of 155,000 pounds.
During the contingency airfield pavement evaluation testing, 54 1-inch holes were drilled through the runway pavement in various places, Dolphay said, where the team recorded the depth of the pavement. They also tested the base material by, basically, driving a rod into the ground to test the hardness and density by electronically measuring the force of a hammer blow and the distance each strike drove the rod into the ground.
The runways, one 5,205 feet by 100 feet and the other, 3,699 by 100 feet, were rated to 175,000-pound capacity, putting them well-within the capacity needed for the C-130s, Dolphay said.
The resulting 60-page report compiled from the testing and the request to use the Havre airfield had to get approval from military operations, and then the board and Dolphay had to send a letter giving permission to land to complete the process.
While it's great that the 120th wing, which is assigned eight aircraft flown by the wing's 186th Airlift Squadron, has made the Havre airfield part of their training, Dolphay said, the bigger picture for Havre is that the results of the testing have become a part of the airport master record and opens up opportunities for large charter and private airplanes to utilize the airport.
"Their insurance companies won't cover landings at airports not rated for their bigger planes," he said, and now the testing done by the military for this joint effort is making the Havre airport a more viable stopping point.
Montana Air National Guard Wing Executive 1st Lt. Cordero Yoder said the 120th was recently upgraded to the H3 model, which looks virtually the same as the H model originally assigned when the 120th came to Great Falls in 2014. But it has newer avionics and other upgrades.
Yoder said the flights will definitely continue into the Havre airport.
"We're always trying to use different airfields for training around the state," he said, adding that making different training runs to airfields across Montana, helps the crews expand their skills and readiness.
"These agreements are a real benefit," he said.