By Capt. Joe Knable
DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Little Rock Air Force Base C-130E aircraft 62-1788 made its last scheduled flight Nov. 29, to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, the aircraft retirement “bone yard,” in Arizona.
Built in 1962, the aircraft’s storied history includes supporting major operations in Vietnam from 1967-1973, such as the Tet Offensive.
The aircraft commander, 314th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Mark Czelusta, wanted to be part of this flight. “At the surface it looks like any other cross-(contiguous-U.S.) mission,” he said. “But to a career C-130 pilot like me, I can’t help but feel nostalgic -- and honored -- to fly a plane on its last flight.”
“(This aircraft) is just as much an Airman as I am,” remarked Tech. Sgt. Ken Williams, a 62nd Airlift Squadron instructor flight engineer, for the aircraft’s final flight. Several other crewmembers echoed similar sentiments.
The aircraft’s assignments include the 1608th Air Transport Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., from 1964 to 1965; the 516th Troop Carrier Wing at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, from 1966 to 1967; the 314th and 374th Tactical Airlift Wings at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, Taiwan, from 1967 to 1968 and 1969 to 1973, respectively; the West Air Virginia National Guard’s 130th Tactical Airlift Squadron from 1974 to 1985; and finally the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 154th Training Squadron and then with 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock AFB from 1986 until Nov. 29, according to 314th Airlift Wing historian Chris Rumley.
In all, this C-130E flew 31,565.5 hours, said Capt. Greg Steenberge, 314th Airlift Wing assistant executive officer and the aircraft’s last copilot.
The aircraft was scheduled to fly until three to five days before the crew departed for Arizona, said Col. Adam Dickerson, 314th Maintenance Group commander, an experienced maintenance officer who has worked with the C-130 for 14 years. “I’m coming to the end of my career and these Herks are coming to the end of their careers, so it means a lot.”
The colonel recalled how 19th Airlift Wing commander Col. Mike Minihan, who recently trained with the 314th AW after assuming command of the base, asked if the maintainers did anything special for him because the scores-old planes looked and performed so well. Colonel Minihan’s planes received the same treatment that a first lieutenant initial qualification course student received, Colonel Dickerson explained.
“The maintainers have really done an outstanding job” of keeping the Es in excellent condition,” said Maj. Justin Barry, 314th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander.
“It’s a point of pride with the E model guys ... It’s a pilot’s aircraft. It’s a maintenance guy’s aircraft,” Colonel Dickerson said in response to a civilian reporter’s question.
“It’s supreme in the tactical airlift mission it was created for,” said Major Barry.
After scores of service around the world, aircraft 62-1788 joined several thousand other Department of Defense aircraft in the dusty Arizona bone yard including models from a 1952 EB-57 Canberra to B-1B Lancers and others still flown today.
As he drove through row after row of the more than 4,000 aircraft at AMARG, Colonel Czelusta pointed out specific C-130E models he flew during various assignments. He has flown C-130s his entire career.
The initial resting place for nearly all Department of Defense aircraft upon retirement, AMARG, “is a one-of-a-kind specialized facility within the Air Force Materiel Command structure,” according to the group’s Web site. “309 AMARG provides critical aerospace maintenance and regeneration capabilities for joint and allied/coalition warfighters in support of global operations and agile combat support for a wide range of military operations.”
Aircraft sent to AMARG are put into several types of storage, depending on their scheduled disposition, which can include being used for spare parts, being sold to foreign governments or museums, or being used as drones, to name a few options. Aircraft 62-1788 is scheduled to be used for spare parts, according to AMARG officials.
After retiring aircraft 62-1788, there are 15 C-130Es left in the 314th AW’s fleet. Aircraft 62-1788 was retired as part of a strategic Air Force effort to modernize its C-130 fleet with C-130J and C-130H AMP aircraft to meet the needs of today’s warfighters in a more efficient, cost-effective way.
The final aircraft to beretired, the 314th AW flagship, aircraft 62-1855, is scheduled to be retired at AMARG in September 2011 for the second time, said Major Barry.
The aircraft was retired once before at AMARG, in December 2002, and remained there until January 2005. In February 2005, the aircraft was brought back to active service and assigned to the 62nd AS, said Mr. Rumley.
Colonel Czelusta plans to be part of the crew that flies the flagship to its retirement, he said.
“The greater story is the upcoming retirement of the entire E-model fleet by the end of (fiscal year 2011.)” Colonel Czelusta explained. “These E-models have served us so very well. Prior to our beginning specialized training in the J-model, every C-130 crewmember in the active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command began their mission-qualifying training in the E-model. Their first experiences were shaped by the 314th AW and its sturdy fleet of E-models. “
The C-130E’s service history is extensive, the colonel explained. “The E-model fleet served our nation so very well throughout the Cold War, in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Somalia, Haiti (1994), Bosnia, and during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were there for scores of humanitarian, counterdrug, and diplomatic missions as well. Our servicemen and women typically enter and exit combat zones in the C-130. And many of our fallen heroes began their final journey home in an E-model.”
Colonel Czelusta also mentioned Joint Task Force Full Accounting, which was established in 1992 to search for the Americans who served in Vietnam and remain unaccounted for, “leveraged the flexibility of the C-130 fleet as it brought our repatriated heroes home, as well.”
The end of U.S. C-130E operations, however, is near. “It’s hard to believe that by September, the (Air Force) will no longer fly these venerable planes,” Colonel Czelusta said. “With more than 35,000 hours on each airframe, each tail number developed its own personality over the years. The newer C-130Hs and the most advanced C-130Js are doing phenomenally well, and they will certainly develop their own personalities over time; many already have. But the E-model fleet is special. They are like family members to the men and women who maintain and fly them.”