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Generation to generation: Carrying on C-130 legacy

A man presses buttons on dashboard in the cockpit of a plane

U.S. Air Force Capt. John Rebolledo, 62nd Airlift Squadron C-130J instructor pilot, checks plane electronics at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Aug. 28, 2019. After graduating high school, Rebolledo attended the Air Force Academy for four years, then was selected for an allocation for pilot training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

A man looks at a piece of paper that is clipped on the dashboard inside the cockpit of an airplane

U.S. Air Force Capt. John Rebolledo, 62nd Airlift Squadron C-130J instructor pilot, looks over a checklist at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Aug. 28, 2019. Rebolledo knew he wanted to fly the C-130 from a young age because he grew up within the C-130 culture and his father was a C-130A model crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

A man wears a headset while he flys a plane in the darkness of the night

U.S. Air Force Capt. John Rebolledo, 62nd Airlift Squadron C-130J instructor pilot, flies a C-130J at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Aug. 28, 2019. Rebolledo uses his knowledge and lessons he has learned to help teach the next generation of pilots as a flight instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

Every box is checked and the crew is ready to go. The familiar hum of a C-130J engine begins to fill the cockpit as the plane slowly creeps forward, inch by inch. They reach the runway, and the plane’s rotors begin to spin vigorously as it darts forward. Within a few moments, the Herk is gliding gracefully through the air.

U.S. Air Force Capt. John Rebolledo, 62nd Airlift Squadron C-130J instructor pilot, feels great pride in achieving his childhood dream of becoming a C-130 pilot.

Rebolledo knew he wanted to be behind the controls of a C-130 from a young age. He grew up around the rich history and traditions of Herk Nation.

“My dad was a C-130A-model crew chief in Vietnam, so I grew up hearing all the stories about tactical airlift and about how great the C-130 was – and still is today,” Rebolledo said. “Once I decided I wanted to be a pilot, I knew I wanted to fly a Herk.”

After graduating high school, Rebolledo attended the Air Force Academy for four years in hopes of achieving his dream of flying. Upon graduation from the academy, Rebolledo was given a pilot training allocation where he would finally achieve his dream of flying. This came with a few obstacles, including getting air sick during the first half of the course.

“This was the first time I thought I might not end up being a pilot,” Rebolledo said. “Eventually, a lot of perseverance and discipline with getting back in the pilot’s seat and flying over and over helped me overcome it.”

The young pilot was now on his way to make his dream a reality. He received orders to fly the C-130H at Yokota Air Base, Japan, for three years and then transitioned to the C-130J.

“The mission is very rewarding,” Rebolledo said. “We go into places that have been struck by natural disasters. The people there are extremely desperate because their lives have just been upended, so we bring in things to aid them like food, vaccines and clothing. When you are doing a job like that it’s pretty easy to take pride in your job.”

Rebolledo proved himself to be a skilled pilot and was given the critical task of teaching the next generation of Herk pilots.

“We are teaching those who have never touched the plane before,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Chance Hansen, 62nd AS assistant director of operations and Rebolledo’s supervisor. “When you are teaching someone at that skill level, it takes a lot of extra work, and you really have to be on your game to be able to fly and be safe.”

Rebolledo takes gratification in being given the opportunity to communicate his knowledge and love of the C-130 to his successors.

“Now, I take a lot of pride in being an instructor because I get to take my humanitarian aid and wartime experiences and translate that into something meaningful for these students who are coming through,” Rebolledo said.

Being able to accept that he won’t always have the right answer drives Rebolledo to find the proper solution to the problems at hand.

“It takes a lot of humility,” Rebolledo said. “To me that means recognizing that you don’t know everything and having a humble spirit. It’s important to always want to learn lessons from pilots who are older or younger than you.”

Rebolledo’s reputation as a pilot and an instructor has garnered himself attention from his current leaders.

“He always had a very positive reputation as a pilot,” Hansen said. “He cares about what he does and shows up every day trying to be a better pilot than he was yesterday and is an excellent addition to the squadron “

In the end, Rebolledo pursued the C-130 legacy and used his heritage as motivation in order to make his dreams become a reality.

“I'm immensely grateful and very satisfied with what I do,” Rebolledo said. “Being a C-130 pilot had been my dream from a young age so being able to self-actualize and obtain my dream is so deeply rewarding. I also gain a lot of satisfaction in imparting my love for this airplane and this mission to the new generation that is going to be flying and performing the tactical airlift mission.”