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
“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
“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.