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Final resting place: special operations veterans send Combat Talons to their ...

Seven aircraft maintainers acted as "morticians" when they prepared four historic MC-130E Combat Talons for decommissioning and the flight to their final resting place. Airmen from the 919th Special Operations Wing at Duke Field, Fla., spent three weeks at Gowen Field, Idaho, to give the birds "last rites" and ensure they could fly one final mission. "It is sentimental for us to see them go," said Chief Master Sgt. Ken Potter, flight chief for the crew. "It will be a sad day when they're gone, but at least it was us who got to send them out."

The chief's seasoned and diverse crew of technicians had aircraft knowledge and experience to spare. All but one had more than 30 years in the military, and every one had at least 10 years working with C-130s.

Like the Talons, the maintainers are in the twilight of their Air Force careers. Some of them had maintained or had connections to these particular aircraft, so they wanted to see them through to the end--including being part of the last official flights.

Senior Master Sgt. Randy Usher has spent his entire 31-year career as a C-130 maintainer. Senior Master Sgt. Bill "Mac" McAnelly also has 31 years maintaining C-130s and served as crew chief for one of the planes, tail No. 567, for six years during its time at Duke Field.

"I've sent three aircraft to the boneyard to get chopped up," said Sergeant McAnelly, a 36-year veteran. "I just wanted to be involved with this one going to a museum. I'd get to take my grandkids and say that was my plane."

The team was joined by a second crew of four Airmen from the 179th Airlift Wing, an Air National Guard unit from Mansfield, Ohio. The 179th Maintenance Group was chosen because of its evolving mission status and was considered a "first source" for C-130 maintenance assistance, according to the team.

The dichotomy of the youthful airlift wing and older special operations wing crews, along with the aged aircraft, added extra context to this significant event, representing almost 50 years of the Air Force. The Talons--tail Nos. 785, 555, 572 and 567--were assembled and put into service in the mid-1960s. Members of the 919th crew began their careers in the early '80s, while most of the 179th crew joined the Air Force in the new millennium.

To retire the "old birds," the team had to ensure the Talons were still airworthy. Each aircraft had to undergo a thorough inspection, including full engine runs, tows, power-ups and refuels. As part of the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission report, the Talons transferred to the 124th Wing at Gowen Field in 2007 but as of 2010 were still considered 919th inventory. The Talons had only flown once in the three years they were located in Idaho.

"Considering how little they were used, they weren't in bad shape," Chief Potter said. "With the exception of a few birds' nests and leaks, they were OK."

The team put the four Talons through their paces, so when their time came the aircraft could return to the sky, for one final mission.

"These are dependable, hard-working aircraft," the chief said. "It's a shame they can't continue for another 20 years."

Although dependable, a few of the Talons were known for their quirks and had developed a temperament, according to those who kept them up. When it came time for them to go, some fought it. No. 785, the first to go, was the oldest of the four. She saw action in Vietnam, and Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

"No. 785 did not want to go," said Senior Master Sgt. Al Hudson, a 30-year veteran with 20 years experience on C-130s. "It was like she knew she was going first, and she wasn't ready."

The maintainers eased her pain (a fuel cell issue), and she took flight May 4 for the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The next to go was No. 555, also called "Triple Nickel" or "Lady in Black." All the maintainers had stories of her. No. 555 was part of history, flying the last successful surface-to-air recovery system training exercise in Liberia.

Although dependable whenever called upon, she was also known to be temperamental. When her time came May 5, a hydraulic and fuel problem delayed her date with destiny, but, eventually, before the snow clouds rolled over the mountains north of the base, she also departed.

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C-130s have been a part of the 919th SOW since 1971, and Combat Talons have been the wing's primary aircraft for 15 years. The maintainers said it wouldn't have been right for just anyone to send them off.

"We continued that heritage of the C-130 community when we inherited the Talons, after the gunships," Chief Potter said. "The aircraft and its maintainers--we're a dying breed."

May 7 arrived and Nos. 567 and 572 were to make their exit. While the other Talons' journey ended in Arizona, No. 567 headed back home to Florida, to Air Force Special Operations Command where it served for more than 30 years. Its final resting place will be the AFSOC air park, where it will be viewed and remembered forever.

(Sergeant King is assigned to the 919th SOW public affairs office at Duke Field.)

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Story and photos by Tech. Sgt. Samuel King Jr.
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Title Annotation:decommissioning four Combat Talons
Author:King, Samuel, Jr.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Words:896
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