October 18, 2017 (by TSgt. Daniel Heaton) - When C-130H tail number 65-0966 landed at its home base on Oct. 18, a half-dozen Airmen quickly moved to the aircraft to unload more than 23,000 pounds of water, food supplies and tarps. It was just the latest mission in a 52-year career for this venerable Hercules aircraft.
A1C Edwin Ocasio observes engine start-up prior to C-130H #65-0966 mission at Muniz ANGB, Puerto Rico on October 18, 2017. The C-130 is assigned to the 198th AS. [ANG photo by TSgt. Dan Heaton]
During the mission the C-130 started engines for a 10 a.m. flight, originating at Muniz. On board were four Soldiers from the Puerto Rico Army National Guard, a large container of aircraft maintenance parts and supplies and a pallet of generators. The first destination was St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The flight was about 30 minutes. For the first-time visitor, the site of the runway on St. Thomas, which ends perhaps a dozen feet from the ocean’s shore likely is a highlight. At St. Thomas, the Hercules kept engines running, unloaded cargo and passengers and then took on a new load as two Army HUMVEES were driven aboard, along with four more Army National Guard Soldiers. After the quick turn, the C-130 headed back to Puerto Rico.
Landing at Muniz, the HUMVEES and Soldiers were unloaded. The next mission was to St. Croix. The load was light on this leg of the journey – one Air Force chaplain’s assistant from the South Carolina Air National Guard. In St. Croix, the C-130 picked up the 23,000-pound load of water and supplies listed above.
“It’s been going like this a lot – a lot of flying and a lot of cargo,” said Master Sgt. Aldo Perez, one of two loadmasters who flew on the mission. “We just come in every day and check the board to see where we are going next.”
For the past 5 years, the aircraft has been flown and operated by the 198th Airlift Squadron, 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico Air National Guard. Over the past month, the aircraft has been flying hurricane relief missions between Puerto Rico, the U.S. mainland and the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands suffered direct hits from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September. Since the hurricanes, National Guard units from around the country have been supporting the island territories in the local relief effort. The PRANG’s squadron of C-130s – the 198th – have been flying rotator missions among the islands even as the PRANG’s effort work to repair damage to Muniz Air National Guard Base, where the 198th is based.
The aircraft has flown about 25,000 hours since it was first put in to service – nearly three straight years if run consecutively.
Built at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, Ga., and delivered to the Air Force in 1965, the C-130 tail number 65-0966 was used early in its lifetime during the Vietnam War, both for tactical airlift and for search and rescue operations. The aircraft has two large windows, one on each side, at the front of the cargo bay. The windows allowed search and rescue personnel to better scan the ground below as the aircraft flew overhead. Later in its life, the C-130 became a WC-130, when it was assigned to weather observation duties with the 53rd, 54th and 55th weather reconnaissance squadrons, popularly known as the “Hurricane Hunters.” After about a dozen years as a “weather bird,” the C-130 was returned to more traditional airlift role with the 327th Airlift Squadron in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then the 105th Airlift Squadron of the Tennessee Air National Guard before being assigned to the PRANG in December 2012.