July 10, 2016 (by 1st Lt. Justin Clark) - The final C-130 Hercules aircraft of the Air Force Reserve's 440th Airlift Wing departed here June 29, 2016, signifying the end of the flying era of the historic unit that will be inactivating in September.
The crew of #88-4404 on the final flight of the 440th AW's last remaining C-130 upon its arrival to its new home at the 309th AMARG. Pictured from left to right are Maj. Kristie Szmajda, MSgt. Brad Pike, MSgt. Jeffrey Brown, MSgt. Craig Schwinden, Lt. Col. John Gorse, and Lt. Col. Jon Jones. [USAF photo by 1st Lt. Justin Clark]
The 440th flew the aircraft to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, where it was signed over to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. In the past months, the unit's other C-130s were flown to other Air Force units around the country to replace older aircraft.
The 440th flew its first operational mission June 6, 1944 to drop paratroopers from the U.S. Army 101st Airborne into German-occupied Normandy. Its final flying mission was June 29, 2016.
"This is the final chapter that started with the buildup to Normandy," said Master Sgt. Jeff Brown, flight engineer for the trip. "It's a sad day when a piece of history this large comes to an end."
The unit had been in the process of inactivation for months leading up to the final flight, and with the handover of the final plane, the 440th's days of flying have come to a close.
"It's bittersweet," said fellow flight engineer Master Sgt. Brad Pike. "Our closing chapter."
"This is the last flight for the 440th," said Col. Karl Schmitkons, the 440th Airlift Wing commander. "This airplane, when it leaves here, is the end of the legacy for the 440th here at Pope."
440th Operations Group Commander Lt. Col. John Gorse, the mission's co-pilot, said that the trip was about more than the members on board.
"All crews who have ever flown C-130s, especially in the 440th, have been part of our community," said Gorse. "Whether they're fixing it, whether they're doing our travel vouchers, whether they're the ones in the back loading the aircraft, all of those people are riding on our airplane today. Even though we are flying with 8 aircrew members, today we carry with us thousands of Airmen."
As the 440th's era comes to an end, Gorse said, this flight was about leaving a legacy of honor and service to the United States.
The Final Flight of 4404
Master Sgt. Angela Psket, maintenance crew chief with the 440th Maintenance Group, was one of many Citizen Airmen who invested a huge amount of time preparing the plane for its final flight.
"There were many, many man-hours involved," said Psket. "We had to do maintenance and operational checks. It took us months to get it ready to fly."
Psket said that 4404 was the first 440th plane she marshaled after joining the unit in 1994, and now it will also be her last. She has served with the unit for 22 years.
The aircrew included Lt. Col. Jon Jones, pilot and aircraft commander, Lt. Col. John Gorse, co-pilot, Maj. Kristie Szmajda, navigator, Master Sgt. Jeffrey Brown and Master Sgt. Brad Pike, flight engineers, and Master Sgt. Craig Schwinden, loadmaster.
In one final display of pride, Pike waved an American flag from a porthole over the cockpit as the airplane taxied away.
A small contingent of the 440th's remaining Citizen Airmen saw their aircraft off as it left on the morning of the 29th. They stood in formation on the flightline, saluting the aircraft one last time as it pulled away. The same aircraft that some of the Citizen Airmen had worked on for their entire careers was now departing.
Flying under the callsign Brewer 91, an homage to the 440th's longtime home in Milwaukee, the aircraft made the cross-country trip from North Carolina to Arizona in about six hours.
"It's a big honor to be the aircraft commander on this flight," said Lt. Col. Jon Jones. "And it's an honor to pilot the final tactical airlift and flyaway of the 440th Airlift Wing - to be entrusted with the last aircraft, to treat it with the respect it deserves."
Before the plane's final landing, the Davis-Monthan control tower approved a flyover of the runway there as a final salute of the aircraft before it was surrendered to its new owners.
After landing, the flight crew taxied through the gates of the AMARG, where they handed off the aircraft to workers awaiting their arrival.
As the paperwork was signed by AMARG personnel, the aircrew posed with American flags for photos with the plane.
"We put this aircraft into storage, closing the chapter on the end of the 440th's era." said Brown.
Because of the 440th's upcoming inactivation, the unit's Citizen Airmen had to decide whether to transfer to other units, enter inactive status, or retire, so this was the final flight for many of the crew.
"It's sad to be moving on," said Szmajda. "That was my last flight in a C-130, my last time flying as Nav."
Schwinden had similar feelings. "Before we were taking off, all I could think was 'that's my last engine start,'" he said.
"It's not just an airplane," said Jones. "It's a part of our heritage and history."
Wherever the 440th has been, so has Tail 4404
Tail 4404, a 1988-model C-130H2, has belonged to the 440th since it was delivered from the factory in 1989. It had been stationed at Pope since 2007, when it moved here with the unit.
The aircraft has flown in nearly all the operations the 440th supported, including Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Coronet Oak in Latin America, and Operation Shining Hope in Kosovo. It was integral in Haiti earthquake relief efforts in 2011 and participated in training exercises in Norway.
Locally, it dropped thousands of Army paratroopers during training exercises including Fort Bragg's Operation Toy Drop, and High-Altitude/Low-Opening paratrooper insertion training.
Tail 4404 was the last plane to leave Pope, but for those Citizen Airmen who served in the 440th Airlift Wing, its departure was not just about that one plane and the missions it had flown. Instead, it's leaving here was a reminder of the legacy of the 440th and all the missions the unit had ever flown - from dropping paratroopers into Normandy, France on D-Day during World War II, to dropping paratroopers onto Normandy Drop Zone at Fort Bragg this past year, and all accomplishments in between. All of that flew away from the 440th Airlift Wing and Pope when 4404 departed.