PEORIA, Ill (WMBD) — After years of trying, Peoria’s 182nd Airlift Wing will get the newest version of the C-130 Hercules cargo plane.

And while that might not sound like earthshaking news, it’s a big relief to the 1,000 or members of the Illinois Air National Guard unit based at the Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport.

The Air Force announced Thursday that four Air National Guards around the nation would get the new planes. Already, six out of 15 guard unit that fly the Hercules have been updated. Peoria and the latest three — Hartford, Conn., Great Falls, Mont. and Minneapolis – – will make that number 10.

Each wing will get eight new aircraft. Planes will not arrive for a few years and it is likely that pilots and maintenance crews will have to under extensive training on the new versions. For now, groups will have to have an environmental impact study likely next year.

Getting updated J-models means the guard members will be flying the same version as their active duty colleagues. The previous version, the H3 variant, was nearly three decades old.

The plane is the U.S. Air Force’s workhorse, undertaking missions that vary from firefighting to close air support to cargo transport.

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood made the announcement late Thursday.

“The 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria is one of the nation’s premier C-130 units and a vital part of our community in central Illinois. Today’s announcement is great news for Peoria and the men and women of the 182nd. Modernizing the 182nd’s fleet to newer aircraft by converting the aging C-130Hs to C-130J’s will ensure the wing maintains and strengthens its flying mission for years to come,” the Peoria Republican said. “Since joining Congress in 2015, upgrading the 182nd’s fleet has been a top priority of my office.

The other congress member to represent Peoria, U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen said the move protects the “jobs of 1,200 Airmen and approximately 370 full-time employees” in addition to keeping the nation’s security and readiness up.

Others within the state’s congressional group also praised the decision.

“C-130s are so essential to the National Guard in carrying out work both at home and abroad,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, herself a veteran of the Peoria-based 106th Aviation Regiment, of the Illinois Army National Guard. “They bring Americans into combat, provide humanitarian relief around the globe and support domestic responses throughout the nation—and have done so reliably for more than 50 years.”

Her colleague, fellow Democrat U.S. Sen. Richard “Dick” Durbin, agreed, adding the decision to bring new planes to the unit “solidifies the legacy of this remarkable unit, allowing them to continue their vital work in supporting our nation’s defense.” 

“I am pleased the Air Force has appropriately recognized the leadership of the 182nd and I will continue to advocate for the men and women who serve our nation in Congress,” LaHood said.

And ironically, in making the announcement about the J-models, LaHood is mirroring a similar statement made by his father in 2005 when the wing got the H3 versions. Back then his father, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, spoke of how the new planes which replaced old E-versions, likely saved the wing from being shuttered during a round of base closures.

According to the U.S. Air Force, J-models can fly faster and at a higher altitude. Additionally, the planes come with more advanced radar, which allows pilots to fly in all weather. Improved avionics — the computers that assist in flying the plane — also are incorporated into the newer models.

They are also bigger, noted Brig. Gen. Daniel R. McDonough, a former 182nd commander and C-130 pilot and who is now in charge of the all three of the state’s air wings.

“There are two more pallet positions so where the H has six, the new J models have eight,” he said noting the planes can carry more cargo.

He like LaHood, was thrilled to hear about the decision by the Air Force, noting he and others at the wing have hoped for nearly 20 years to get the upgraded version.

The Peoria-based unit had the highest C-130 Hercules mission capable rates in the Air Force in 2020 and 2021. Most recently, the unit received the 2023 Major General Stanley F.H. Newman Outstanding Unit Award in which it was recognized as the top Air National Guard units in the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.