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Little Rock Guards last E model gone


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189th retires its last C-130E to ‘boneyard’

Vintage airplane heads to Arizona desert

By Amy Schlesing

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

LITTLE ROCK — Chief Master Sgt. Donald O’Conner, like the rest of the crew, asked to fly Tail 7811 of Arkansas’ C-130 fleet Monday on its final mission - to the U.S. Air Force’s airplane “boneyard†at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

It’s unusual for an airman of his rank to still fly the old bird called Hercules. He’s the flight engineer superintendent for the 154th Training Squadron of the Arkansas National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing, where he spends more time supervising flight engineers than actually flying as one. But Monday’s flight marked the end of an era for the 189th and O’Conner was determined to be a part of it.

Tail 7811 rolled off the Lockheed Martin line in 1963 and flew in Vietnam. It ended its U.S. Air Force career Monday leaving an inky exhaust trail across the sky to retire in the Arizona desert as the 189th’s last E-model and a symbol of change that is just months away.

The 189th is in a transition to become home to the specially modified 1980s-era C-130H version called the C-130AMP - which features a new flightdeck with digital flight and navigation controls. In order to do that, however, the wing had to say goodbye to the planes it’s crews have flown since 1986.

“This is the last of our Emodels, and it’s going out,†O’Conner said, standing in the plane’s belly before takeoff as he has countless times during his 27-year career. “I’m ready to retire, myself, so it’s sort of bittersweet.â€

Tail 7811 still has life in her. With just over 32,000 flying hours, she could be flown another 1,300 hours before being restricted on load and descents.

Ask anyone in the 189th and they all say the same thing: The plane was mild tempered, very reliable and kicked out the coldest air conditioning of any C-130E in the U.S. Air Force, which is really saying something for an E-model.

“It’s old and slow, but it gets you where you need to go,†O’Conner said of his beloved plane. “But we’ve got bigger and better things on the horizon.â€

In April, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley announced a plan to expedite the retirement of C-130Es to free up funds to upgrade more of the 221 aircraft in the C-130H fleet and buy more C-130Js now in production.

The Air Force’s long-term acquisition plan calls for the purchase of more than 60 C-130Js through 2020 at a cost of about $6 billion. This year has marked a big change in the retirement of aircraft under Donley’s plan, with more to come.

Little Rock Air Force Base brought one C-130E home from Iraq and retired it to the boneyard this spring. The 314th Airlift Wing at the base in Jacksonville has shipped off nearly 10 planes in the last few months and expects to have the remaining 19 C-130Es in its inventory retired by the end of 2011. Eighteen C-130Hs are headed to the base from a conglomeration of Air Force Reserve units to help fill in the void as the 189th builds up its C-130AMP fleet.

In the meantime, the 19th Airlift Wing’s 53rd and 61st Airlift Squadrons still fly a combined 31 C-130Es. The 53rd is trading in its planes for C-130Hs from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, as the C-130 squadron there transitions to C-130Js. The 61st eventually will become a C-130J squadron as well.

Lt. Col. Marc Sicard, 189th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, climbed out of Tail 7811 in the morning chill and rubbed her cold metal nose one last time as he walked to a van. O’Conner would give the nose a final rub in Tucson. later in the day as a final goodbye. “This one still has some hours on it,†Sicard said. “We actually tried to extend this departure until February.â€

The 189th could use a few more planes in the coming months. It has received eight of the nine C-130Hs scheduled to replace now-retired C-130Es. But one of those replacement planes is already slated for the C-130AMP upgrade and another is due for year-long depot maintenance. “We’re going to have a bit of a challenging year,†said Col. Steve Eggensperger, 189th Operations Group commander. “We’ll have a hard time meeting our full student production without limitation.â€

The 189th trains all C-130 flight crew instructors across the Air Force.

“It’s kind of sad, really,†Eggensperger said. “These old E’s, it’s like putting on an old glove when you climb into them. The H’s are still a little new to us.â€

Not all of the crew for Monday’s flight was as sentimental, though.

“The H’s, I love them,†said copilot Maj. Don Clark. “I love the extra power [of the engines]. And the air conditioning is almost too strong. â€â€œI finally get to fly planes that aren’t older than me,†said pilot Lt. Col. Greg Elfrink.

Still, like O’Conner and the rest of the crew, Elfrink fought “tooth and nail†to fly Monday’s mission, “It’s a little bit of unit history today.â€

The C-130E could be called a maintainers aircraft. It was forgiving and many times fixed with a good wallop.

“They can be a little cantankerous,†said Senior Master Sgt. John Adderhold, a crew chief. “But they were simple, rugged and made to do one thing. Today? Well, it kind of tells us we’re getting a little older, too.â€

This article was published today at 5:51 a.m.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 09/28/2010

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Unfortunately the cost of maintenance and the extra crew means that pretty much all of the E models will be retired. Any H models that can't be rewinged and AMPed will also go. Personally I would like to see more H's being upgraded since the C-130J production backlog extends into 2016 already.

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RavenFE, Thanks for the info on 62-1804! Anybody else know where she is? An earlier post by ?? said 1804 was going to a school squadron--which means what???

According to help from Tiny Clark, it still has some hours left. I hate to see her end up in the bone-yard. I spent many enjoyable hours (some not so enjoyable also) on that airplane!!! In just 15 months, she became part of my life and it seems like yesterday that I was getting ready to go on a CRB input or some other place that I would never have seen if not for her!!!

I guess CRS has helped me forget all of the hours it took to keep her flying!!! I couldn't do those hours now!!!

Thanks for your help Raven,


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Bob - 1804 was flying as a blue tail in August. Was not in the Job control computer on Thursday. May be out getting some TLC somewhere.

Ken - school squadron is the AETC squadron where all 130 students get their initial and most mission qual training before going to to assigned units. Most all the 'E's belong to the 62nd(school sq.). A few are still with the 61st.

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We are E less for sure, although the latest rumor is that we are getting a couple back as loaners since we will be down to 5 airplanes in a month or so. 86-1395 is scheduled to leave for the AMP mod and we have one in ISO and one in PDM. We also picked up 86-1398 from St Joe. As for the H2s down at the schoolhouse, there is a Youngstown tail there now although I am not sure which one.

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