HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
There are certain details that members of the U.S. Air Force Combat Talon community will never forget.
For one – the low, humming sound of an MC-130H’s engines.
“You could always tell when one was about to land,” said U.S. Staff Sgt. Kevin Rutkowski. “There’s a specific hum to it.”
For many others, it’s the “Talon Standard.”
An unofficial motto, the “Talon Standard” is a phrase that’s been used by MC-130H Combat Talon II crews in good times, and in bad.
“The ‘Talon Standard’ means holding yourself and your crew to the highest standard,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Fisher, an MC-130H pilot assigned to the 5th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
“When you would finish that perfect mission, you say, ‘of course we did, that’s the Talon Standard,’” Fisher added. “But, it can also be a really bad day where everything goes wrong and others might give up, but you still get the mission done - that’s the Talon Standard.”
On Sunday, April 2, members of the Talon community gathered at Hurlburt Field, to see MC-130H, Tail Number 89-0280, take off for the last time.
As members of the 15th Special Operations Squadron prepared for takeoff, families, friends and former MC-130H crew joined them to say goodbye to the aircraft.
Before it taxied away, ground crews also made sure to take part in what has become a preflight ritual for the Combat Talon II – rubbing the aircraft’s large, rounded nose.
“There’s special things you do whenever a plane leaves,” Rutkowski said. “With the MC-130H, I used to give it a big hug on the nose and tell it goodbye and to keep my friends safe. I did that every single time.”
A former crew chief with the 15th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Hurlburt Field, Rutkowski said he will never forget the camaraderie of being part of the Talon community.
Rutkowski, now a quality assurance evaluator assigned to the 1st Special Operations Maintenance Group, worked on the MC-130H for six years. During that time, he deployed three times and supported a variety of missions for the 15th SOS.
“There was just so much pride behind the Talons,” Rutkowski noted. “Probably a part of that pride was knowing that at a moment’s notice, we had to be ready.”
Missions performed with the MC-130H involved infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces and equipment, in addition to air refueling operations, among others.
The aircraft, which first arrived at Hurlburt Field in June 1992, supported combat and humanitarian operations including Operation Allied Force, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, to name a few.
Sunday’s flight saw the MC-130H depart Hurlburt Field for the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, also known as the “Boneyard,” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.
On board the aircraft to help deliver it to its final destination was Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. A former commander of the 15th SOS and MC-130H pilot, Bauernfeind made it a priority to take part in the final flight.
“I’ve spent a majority of my career being around this amazing airplane, its maintainers and operational support staff,” said Bauernfeind. “I felt that it should be sent off right, knowing full well that we’re capturing its heritage. And not only that, but that there will be other aircraft that follow behind it, that maintain that same ‘Talon Standard’ and keep that heritage going forward.”
Following the six-hour flight to Davis-Monthan, the aircrew, including Bauernfeind and 15th SOS Commander Lt. Col. Adam Schmidt, took more photos with the aircraft and signed their names on the aircraft’s nose.
On April 3, personnel assigned to the 309th AMARG will help to deliver the MC-130H to join 17 other Combat Talon II aircraft at the boneyard.
From there, the 309th AMARG will perform regular anti-corrosion and other maintenance to preserve the MC-130H, as sometimes, aircraft can be returned to service based on needs of the Air Force.
Now, with the retirement of the MC-130H complete, the MC-130J Commando II has officially replaced the Combat Talon II.
However, for those close to the Talon mission, the aircraft will never truly be replaced.
“We are committed to excellence, to the highest of standards and the highest levels of performance,” said Schmidt. “That mentality defines our community, and isn't retiring with the Combat Talon II. The Standard is alive and well in our MC-130J Commando II aircrew and within our entire squadron.”