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Thu, Jan 19, 2006

Last WC-130H Departs Keesler

The last of a generation of aircraft lifted gently off a runway at Keesler AFB, MS, Jan. 12. “This is the end of an era. For years the H model performed magnificently meeting the needs of the weather mission; however, it is time to move on,” said Brig. Gen. Rich Moss, commander of the 403rd Wing.

“The increased performance and the advanced avionics of the J model will only enhance the ability of the 403rd to perform the vital weather mission.”

Aircraft #980 was the last WC-130H aircraft to depart the home of the Hurricane Hunters, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. The unit completed conversion to the WC-130J two months ahead of schedule last year. All of the unit’s H-model aircraft have been reallocated to other squadrons. A crew from the 913th Airlift Wing arrived here Jan. 10 to make final inspections on the aircraft before flying it home to Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, Pa.

The H-models, many of them built in the 1960s, still remain the backbone of the Air Force’s intratheater airlift fleet. With hundreds of these aircraft, the Air Force is able to get supplies and troops to the frontlines, quickly and efficiently. For decades, the Hurricane Hunters have flown this tough aircraft through the most violent weather systems known to man. Aircraft 980 flew into many unnamed tropical systems as well as named hurricanes over the years.

“It was a great aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer with the squadron. “Whichever units get one will get many more years of workhorse service out of them.”

Among the Airmen who watched the last Hercules depart was Master Sgt. Steve Campanella, a flightline supervisor and former H-model crew chief, who was responsible for a similar aircraft.

“It’s always hard to see an airframe leave. Especially one that you put so much of your time and effort into maintaining,” said Sergeant Campanella, an air reserve technician who has served 18 years with the 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

“I’ve been doing this for so long it doesn’t bother me,” said Master Sgt. Ronnie Klipp, the crew chief who serviced the 980 before departure. He has served 30 years as an aircraft maintainer and serviced three generations of C-130s.

Besides the aircraft, the 403rd Wing will also lose several crewmembers. The new WC-130Js fly with a smaller crew. Flight engineers who were essential on all previous versions of the venerable “Herk”, have had to look for new assignments or retrain into a new job skill.

Engineers conduct preflight checks and perform takeoff and landing data calculations. During flight they also check all systems for performance and ensure the aircraft has sufficient fuel to continue the mission.

“I’m going to miss flying into storms the most,” said Chief Master Sgt. Steve Riley, flight engineer. “I think the H model will continue to be a part of the Air Force’s airlift fleet for some time into the future. While many of the ones we had were built in the ‘60s the Air Force has some that were built in the ‘90s. Those aircraft still have at least 20-30 or more good years in them.”

As the wing says farewell to the H model, it also welcomes the chance to focus on one airframe. The unit has been flying two completely different aircraft since the first C-130J arrived in 1998. While they have similar names, the aircraft couldn’t be more different. Maintainers had to keep spare parts on hand for both aircraft and crewmembers could only fly one or the other.

“The airframe is the same, but all the electronics and computers make it easier to maintain,” said Sergeant Klipp. He said he can service a J model (shown above) 60 percent faster than an H model, allowing him and the other crew chiefs to accomplish more duties in a workday.



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