BY Master Sgt. Jeff Walson
913th Airlift Group
A little known fact about the C-130A Hercules on display in front of the main gate at Little Rock Air Force Base is that it was the last “Herk” out of Vietnam before the fall of Saigon in 1975.
The aircraft was accepted into the Air Force inventory on Aug. 23, 1957. It was first assigned to the 314th Troop Carrier Wing, Sewart AFB, Tennessee. Between 1964 and 1972, it served with several Air Force units until it was given to the South Vietnamese air force Nov. 2, 1972, under the Military Assistance Program.
On April 29, 1975, one day before the fall of Saigon, South Vietnamese instructor pilot, Maj. Phuong, and his crew prepared to get the last flyable aircraft off the destroyed Tan Son Nhut air base.
According to historic reports, there were more than 100 aircraft destroyed on the flightline, many still burning, when hundreds of desperate, freedom seeking civilians rushed the last remaining aircraft. The multitude forced themselves on top of each other and into every crevice, to the point that the rear ramp would not close for the bodies standing on it.
After being notified by the loadmaster, and with few options available, Phoung slowly taxied the aircraft forward and then hit the brakes forcing the people forward. The ramp closed.
Getting the overloaded aircraft off the ground would take all of Phuong’s skill as a pilot and more runway than was available, but the C-130 made it into the sky.
Phoung had planned for an 80 minute flight to the safety of Thailand, but got lost over the Gulf of Siam. Three and a half hours later, after finding a map and making corrections, the C-130 landed at Utapao Royal Thai air base in Thailand with 452 people on board. (There were 32 people on the flight deck alone). There had been no loss of life on this historic flight.
Upon landing, the US Air Force reclaimed the aircraft and in 1976 assigned it to the Oklahoma Air National Guard. The aircraft joined the 118th Tactical Airlift Group (ANG), Nashville, Tenn., in 1979. It remained there until its final flight to Little Rock AFB on June 28, 1989.