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62-1788 gone but not forgotten

Muff Millen

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I copied this off the Air Force Magazine today


Thursday December 09, 2010

Little Rock's C-130E Ops Winding Down: The 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock AFB, Ark., has only 15 C-130E transports remaining after retiring tail number 62-1788 to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. This airframe, built in 1962, participated in the Tet Offensive and other major operations from 1967 to 1973 during the Vietnam War. Overall, the airlift workhorse flew 31,565.5 hours in its nearly 50-year career. Arriving at Davis-Monthan on Nov. 29, airmen will now use it for spare parts. Little Rock's remaining C-130Es are scheduled for phaseout by September 2011, as the Air Force makes way for C-130Js and C-130Hs with upgraded avionics. "These E-models have served us so very well," said Col. Mark Czelusta, 314th AW commander. He continued, "Prior to our beginning specialized training in the J-model, every C-130 crewmember … began their mission-qualifying training in the E-model." (Davis-Monthan report by Capt. Joe Knable)

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock)

December 12, 2010

Pg. 1

Memories Lift Crew On C-130's Last Flight

Base's aging planes taxi to Boneyard

By Amy Schlesing, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. - The plane cut across the sky over the southern Arizona desert as Col. Mark Czelusta squared its wings and lined up for its last landing. The 48-year-old C-130 had flown like a champ all the way from Little Rock Air Force Base.

"Seems like she could fly forever," said Tech. Sgt. Ken Williams, the flight engineer.

Tail No. 1788 climbed fast and flew beautifully during the five-hour flight from Arkansas. The plane's four engines never fell out of sync, even in their oil-pressure readings. But nothing lasts forever. Tail No. 1788 will never fly again. This is home to the "Boneyard," the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group - where aging planes are bundled up against the elements and stored. Some are kept ready to fly and sold to allied nations; some are used for parts. Eventually, all are chopped up and recycled.

More than half of the 131 C-130s stored at the Boneyard, near Tucson, Ariz., have "The Rock" emblazoned on their tails. Over the next 10 months, at least 15 more Little Rock Air Force Base C-130Es will be sent to the Boneyard as the Air Force's plan to retire its C-130E fleet winds down. The 2011 defense budget called for the expedited retirement of all E-models, which require more maintenance, so the Air Force can afford more J-models and pay for avionics upgrades to the 1980-and 1990-era H-models.

Little Rock Air Force Base is the last bastion for the C130E Hercules, the oldest cargo planes in the U.S. military. The 314th Airlift Wing will retire its last E-model - the flagship - in September. Little Rock's 19th Airlift Wing will be the last unit in the Air Force to fly C-130Es. The 19th's 61st Airlift Squadron is expected to fly them well into 2012 - until enough Jmodels are purchased to rep lace their Es. And that all depends on the defense-authorization bill now hung up in Congress.

"That [defense budget] will give us a peek at what the J buy is," said Col. Mike Minihan, 19th commander.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley predicts a $256 million reduction in operational and maintenance costs by retiring the E-model fleet. A new C-130J - the model currently rolling off Lockheed Martin's assembly line - costs about $68 million.

The C-130J has proved itself invaluable in Afghanistan, where a lack of roads requires troops to be resupplied by air. The C-130 can land in places no other plane can and is used more than any other aircraft in Afghanistan. Little Rock Air Force Base is the largest C-130 base in the world with more than 100 planes.

Long before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the C-130E had proved itself in Vietnam and Grenada, the first Persian Gulf War and Bosnia.

"This plane is as much, if not more, of an airman than I am," Williams said.

The Herk

The C-130 is nicknamed Hercules - Herk for short. And like most mechanical things, many who work and fly them find each plane has a personality among its steel and technology.

"There are guys who think planes have a soul," said Master Sgt. Joel Sparta, a crew chief with the 314th's 62nd Airlift Squadron. He's one of them. "It's ridiculous, really," he said. "You talk to it while you work on it. People think you're crazy. But you put that much work into it, it's got a piece of you in it. It's got your sweat, a bit of skin off your knuckles. Each of these planes are a direct reflection of you, of your work ethics, of your character, everything. It's hard to see them go."

Ask any member of a C130 flight crew, young or old, and they will have stories of dirt landings and adventure in far-off lands. These planes hold history in their metal skins. Patchwork done to fix bullet holes during Vietnam can be seen on many of the E-models. Tail No. 1788 flew combat missions in Vietnam from 1964-19 73 and still bears the scars of that war.

"It's called a legacy aircraft because it's old," Sparta said. "But think of everything that it's seen. How many wrench-turners have busted their knuckles for years keeping that same plane flying all these years?"

Until last week, Tail No. 1788 was flown by Little Rock's 314th Airlift Wing to train new C-130 crews. Before that, Arkansas National Guard's 189th Airlift Wing flew it.

In a 2008 letter to the 189th, retired Chief Master Sgt. Frank "Muff " Millen remembered the plane like a long-lost buddy as he recounted the day in 1973 that led to his and the crew's receipt of the Silver Star for valor.

"On the last day of the Vietnam War we went to Dalat Cam Lai to pick up the [Vietnam] cadets to take them around the country to explain to the locals that the war was over. During engine-running loading of the cadets, the base came under heavy mortar fire."

The crew replaced a wheel and prepared to take off when the gas turbine compressor - the plane's power generator - quit. A jump-start got them flying, but the more than 400 shrapnel holes caused a major fuel leak and led to an emergency landing in Thailand.

"It was a very memorable day. ... Glad to see that the old girl is still flying," he wrote to the 189th last year.

That electrical quirk stayed with the plane its whole life. When Tail No. 1788 landed at the Boneyard, the generator quit.

Master Sgt. Doug Tillery was 1788's crew chief at the 189th for more than 13 years. Laughed when he heard about the power failure in Vietnam and at the Boneyard.

"It did that for years. The crews stopped writing it up years ago," he said. "That's typical '88."

The Boneyard

The seemingly endless rows of more than 4,400 Boneyard planes spread across 2,600 acres of desert dominated the landscape as Czelusta nudged Tail No. 1788 to the ground at Davis-Monthan. The crew wondered if this would really be the plane's last landing.

Several nations such as Romania and Poland are buying E-models and investing in new wings to extend their lives. The fleet was grounded in 2005 due to wing stress fractures. They returned to the air a year later with restrictions on how long they could fly.

Tail No. 1788 has about 6,000 more flying hours left before flying limits would be imposed and is more than 10,000 hours away from mandatory grounding and wing replacement.

As they prepared to land, the crew chatted about how well the plane flew.

"It's as if we told her, 'If you mess up one more time, we're sending you to the Boneyard,'" said Capt. James Sinclair, the navigator.

The plane slowed down as a 118-knot wind pounded its nose.

"She doesn't want to go," quipped Capt. Greg Steenberge, the co-pilot.

Just then, something dripped onto his head from the control panel above.

The plane landed and rolled toward a special taxiway to the Boneyard.

"This place is giving me the willies," Sinclair said. "All the dead planes over there, it's sort of fatalistic for a [navigator]."

The new J-model and the avionics upgrade on the Hmodels both eliminate the need for a navigator. The work of a human navigator is being replaced by computers.


"In 1953, Lockheed built a dump truck," said Lt. Col. Louis Treer of Arkansas National Guard's 189th Airlift Wing two days after 1788 was retired. "You can park them side by side, new and old, and it's still a dump truck."

The Herk was built for landing in the most-rugged places - dirt, gravel, grass or snow - to haul troops and supplies directly to the front line. The stories from Vietnam that have followed the E-models for four decades are just being lived in the battlefields of Afghanistan, where C-130Js are again getting shot up during low-level airdrops and dirt landings to supply troops.

Maj. Justin Barry, 314th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, said it's those experiences that tie people to these planes.

"You're all living together, working in th e dirt and the heat together," he said at Little Rock Air Force Base, reflecting on his life with Emodels.

It's that group experience in austere conditions where the plane becomes part of that experience and part of the group.

Czelusta has said that a pilot's first plane is like a girlfriend you never forget. That was never more evident than at the Boneyard.

"It is kind of creepy," he said as he steered the plane over the concrete, the rhythmic thump of the rolling wheels tapping out a cadence. "Dead man walking. Dead man walking."

They pulled up to a team of maintenance personnel waiting to swarm the plane. Czelusta shut down the engines and said, "Old girlfriend, you earned your keep."

The gas turbine compressor quit and refused to restart.

"She's mad," Williams said as he tried to restart the system, patting the control panel on the ceiling. "She is mad. It's OK, girl."

Staff Sgt. Allen Plack cranked the cargo door closed by hand and then joined 309th personnel to inventory all the equipment on the plane. The plane's entire maintenance history - every engine change and every Xray of its rivet joints - was packed into an expandable folder more than two feet thick and sealed in a plastic bag that will always remain with the plane.

"I think that's the only reason they let me fly on this mission," he said with a smile. There is no cargo to monitor on a plane's final flight.

Steenberge walked around the plane, giving it a final look. He rubbed the nose and gave the plane a pat on the belly by the landing gear as he always does.

Outside, members of the 309th confirmed that the plane was destined to become a parts plane - a mechanical organ donor.

The crew took a drive through the Boneyard, looking at all the planes. They saw old Herk friends like "Bob" and "Patches" and "Damien." Memories of deployments and missions replaced conversation as they quietly looked at row after row of planes with "The Rock" on the tails.

It was a look ba ck and the way forward all at the same time for the Herk crew.

"There's a little bit of pride as I look at all of these. And a little bit of ... well ... ," Czelusta said, his words drifting off to mingle with his memories of years past. "It's like you're walking through the history of your career."

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  • 2 years later...

"Several nations such as Romania and Poland are buying E-models and investing in new wings to extend their lives. The fleet was grounded in 2005 due to wing stress fractures. They returned to the air a year later with restrictions on how long they could fly."

For Poles it was US gift they did not by... them !

Polish media and the public after the delivery of the first C-130 were furious with a scrap gift from the ally ;)

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You want the good stuff, you have to pay for it. We were only giving out our best "scrap", which still had about 1/2 to 1/4 life left. That's still a lot of flight hours for a "gift". They can be furious all they want, but complaining about the quality of a free hand out at a time when we can't even afford paper towels in our restrooms seems a bit petty to me. From what I understand, the U.S. even paid to put the aircraft through a major Depot inspection. Basically, we paid these other countries to take our aircraft, giving them a free capability they didn't otherwise have.

If the Herc is a "scrap gift", they can always invest in an Antonov. I hear those are pretty popular around the globe.

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