Saving a C-130: Aircraft 1857

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Scott M. Doremus
  • 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
She wasn't just any C-130.

Throughout my 20 years with Aircraft 1857, I was always aware of her vast history. Not only did she fly more than seven years during the Vietnam War, but she also actively participated in Operation Eagle Claw as "Republic 5."

This past year was her final operational year. She was due to retire in June to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where she would eventually be scrapped.

As the last operational aircraft that took part in Operation Eagle Claw, and the only Airborne Command and Control Center aircraft remaining, I decided I would do everything in my power to save her.

This was a tough proposition as money is tight for these types of projects, and several recent attempts to save other C-130s for preservation have failed.

With the backing of Air Force Special Operations Command, I began contacting every museum and base that I thought was capable of accepting the aircraft for display. After months of rejections, I was put in-touch with the staff of the Carolinas Aviation Museum, home of the "Miracle on the Hudson" aircraft.

They read my two-page document outlining the history of the aircraft and were interested in acquiring the plane for their collection at Charlotte-Douglas airport. They felt Aircraft 1857 would be a great addition to their collection, and her history fit perfectly with the Special Operations Forces community in North Carolina.

With a solid museum wanting the plane, I contacted the officials at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for permission to transfer the aircraft.

Initially, they said no.

They said USAF aircraft are typically retired and demilitarized in the boneyard or on a base, not in civilian hands. USAF aircraft aren't flown in and directly handed over to museums. Additionally, a C-130 was never transferred this way before.

At this point, I contacted Col. Roger Williams, wing commander of the 145th North Carolina Air National Guard, conveniently located at Charlotte-Douglas airport, which is adjacent to the museum.

I requested ramp space for the aircraft, permission for myself and a small team to perform the demilitarization of the aircraft on the flightline, and access to maintenance facilities.

Williams enthusiastically said yes.

With this plan, plus the history of the aircraft I had written, I submitted my proposal to the Collections Committee at the NMUSAF. They unanimously agreed the aircraft should be preserved and the Carolinas Aviation Museum would be awarded permanent loan of the aircraft as a museum display.

On Aug. 1, EC-130E 62-1857 made her final flight and landed at Charlotte-Douglas airport with an AFSOC aircrew at her controls. She had a total of 38,306.8 flying hours, almost 10,000 of which were flown in Vietnam. She was involved in every contingency up to 9/11, and ground time at Desert One during Operation Eagle Claw.

I spent about a week demilling the plane with a small team of mechanics. We removed fuel, oil, hydraulic fluid, fire agent and batteries, as well as disabled the avionics and instruments to render the aircraft permanently non-flyable, which is a requirement for any permanently grounded aircraft in a museum.

Several weeks later, I made a second trip up to Charlotte to replace all four engines on the aircraft with older units for display purposes. In two days, my crew and I removed and replaced all four engines and made final preparations for the aircraft to be put on display.

On Oct. 19, the Carolinas Aviation Museum hosted a gala induction ceremony and dinner for aircraft 1857.

Guests included former ABCCC crew members and members of Operation Eagle Claw who had flown on the aircraft during the mission to rescue our hostages being held in Iran.

Retired Lt. Col. Russ Tharp, 1857's pilot and aircraft commander during Operation Eagle Claw, was the special guest speaker. He gave an edge-of-your-seat account of flying 1857 into and out of Iran during that risky mission in 1980.

I never would have imagined that a journey I started as a young C-130 crew chief with this plane 20 years ago would have ended so perfectly. The aircraft is now on display in a prominent museum; a permanent memorial representing the Air Force, AFSOC, Air Combat Command, and the veterans who flew and maintained her. She continues her mission as she sits proudly among other historical aircraft.

I'm sure she'll outlast us all...