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Naha Airplanes, Camo and Tail Codes


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Unless you were there, most people are not aware of the convoluted arrangement at Naha prior to the activation of the 374th Troop Carrier Wing in late summer of 1966 (August 1, I believe.) Except for a few airplanes assigned to E Flight for accounting purposes, the flying squadrons - 21st, 35th and 817th and after Dec. 1965 the 41st - were assigned to the 6315th Operations Group while the airplanes themselves all maintenance troops except some in E Flight were assigned to the 51st Fighter Wing. This was an arrangement the Air Force used for units that were not the host unit on a base. If I recall correctly, it came out of AFM 66-1. There was an association with different 51st FIW sections with each squadron but it wasn't adhered to when assigning airplanes and crews to missions. When the 374th activated, the airplanes transferred to it along with maintenance personnel and flight line mechanics were assigned to squadrons while specialists were assigned to the 374th FMS.

Until very late 1965, all TAC and PACAF C-130s were unpainted. Marking included the number on the tail, USAF insignia on each side of the fuselage and on the wings and US Air Force on the sides. In the early 60s they had the last three numbers of the tail number on the nose as tactical marking, but those were removed by 1965. The Air Force started painting tactical aircraft in jungle camouflage in late 1965. I was TDY to Mactan from Pope at the time and as I recall the first ones we saw were fighters. I seem to remember seeing a camouflaged C-130 toward the end of that TDY but I'm not certain. After I got back to Pope I got orders to Naha and arrived there in February, 1966. By that time the camo program was in full swing. There were still a lot of silver C-130s in all of the PACAF wings but they were being painted either when they went to the States for IRAN or at contractors in Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. The Naha and Tachi A-models were painted at Gifu, Japan. I took an airplane there for paint a few weeks after I got to Naha.

At first, the numbers were subdued. In fact, the tail numbers were very small and were painted in the green in tan letters. See my page www.sammcgowan.com/loadmasters.html. There is a photograph near the bottom that I took in the summer of 1967. The original is a slide but this is a black and white production. Still, the tan numbers are visible. Some airplanes may have had black numbers in the tan. I seem to remember that there were some and may have a picture of one of those. It no doubt depended on the pattern used at the particular paint shop. Airplanes painted at Gifu, for instance, were different from those that had been painted in the States. The colors were the same but there were variations in the arrangement. The easiest way to tell was by looking at the lines of the gray underbelly paint. The overseas shops used a more linear line while those painted in the US were more scalloped.

There were no tail codes on C-130s until mid-1967 at all. While fighters had them, it was because they flew tactical missions in formations. TAC and PACAF C-130s had gone to in-trail and gotten away from V's and Finger Four. Some general got the bright idea that all tactical aircraft should have squadron tail codes and they started putting them on C-130s. I've got a photograph that Gary Peters sent me of a Naha airplane with a tail code on a COMMANDO LAVA mission which was in July 1967. The paint is fresh and the airplane had evidently just come from IRAN. I left Naha in August 1967 but returned to PACAF to Clark to the 463rd in early 1969. By that time all C-130s had squadron tail codes but to be really honest, they didn't mean a thing. There was no attempt at all to match squadron crews and airplanes unless it was for non-SEA missions, which were few and far between because MAC C-141s had taken over the intertheater airlift for the most part by 1969. In fact, flight crews paid little attention to tail numbers at all, except to find the right airplane on the ramp. All of the research that has been done in regard to squadron assignments is basically meaningless since crews and airplanes were only occasionally from the same squadron. All in-country operations were carried out by 315th AD or 834th AD detachments where airplanes and crews from out of country were assigned on TDY and scheduling was based on first-in, first-out for airplanes and crews (and in the case of A-models, on the first airplane to come into commission.)

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