11/14/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- A 44-year-old C-130 with a Purple Heart and more than 29,500 flying hours flew its final combat mission Nov. 13 here.
Aircraft 63-7865, belonging to Ramstein Air Base, Germany\'s 86th Airlift Wing and currently assigned to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing here, transported servicemembers and cargo between bases in the region before landing after its final combat sortie.
\"It was an honor for me to fly this last combat sortie for 63-7865. It is amazing and humbling to know that this aircraft had an illustrious history and combat record dating back over a quarter century even before I flew it for the first time more than 17 years ago,\" said Col. Brian O\'Connor, 386 AEW vice commander. \"There are certainly a multitude of operators and maintainers who have distinct memories of 7865 over its 44 years of service; I am fortunate to be one of those individuals. It is fitting that this aircraft closed out its career with superlative combat service in Iraq and there wasn\'t a better way for it to fly into the sunset of its career.\"
Colonel O\'Connor first flew the aircraft in 1990 while assigned to the 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan. He flew the aircraft on at least seven missions while stationed in the Pacific.
Another pilot here has a history with this particular C-130. Lt. Col. Rick Matton, currently deployed from Yokota, flew 63-7865 11 times while on a previous assignment to the air base.
\"It\'s definitely a bittersweet day,\" said Colonel Matton, also a pilot on the last mission and currently the 386th Expeditionary Operations Group deputy commander. \"Knowing the history that she\'s been through, especially with her Vietnam experience, I was completely honored by the opportunity to fly her last combat mission.\"
On the flight deck of aircraft 63-7865 is a plaque telling the story of its honorary Purple Heart.
According to the certificate, on June 1, 1972, the aircraft was assigned to the 21 TAS at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, Taiwan, when it took a mortar round through engine No. 3 while sitting on the flightline on Kontum Air Base, Vietnam.
After a maintenance recovery team replaced the engine, the aircraft was once again ready to fly. But just as the pilot Lt. Col. Lyn Mulkey taxied the C-130 for takeoff, the new engine failed to start, forcing a three-engine takeoff. Despite taking even more incoming mortar rounds that punctured the wings and inflicted heavy damage to its other engines, the colonel got the aircraft airborne.
The war-torn C-130 could only reach 1,000 feet due to its damage and had to make an emergency landing at Plieku Air Base, Vietnam, where it was determined that the combat aircraft would need two new wings and four engines.
\"The task of keeping an aircraft mission ready is a daunting task, and taking care of 7865 was no different,\" said Lt. Col. Shirlene Ostrov, 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. \"The caliber of people we have working in maintenance is tremendous. This aircraft represents the outstanding aircrews who flew here and the talented maintainers that kept her flying.\"
Aircraft 63-7865 will soon be flown back to Ramstein and then to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, also known as the \"Boneyard,\" located near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
The Pilot was Reed Mulkey