December 9, 2016 (by A1C Grace Nichols) - Crew chiefs are the individuals who are essential in the upkeep and maintenance of aircraft, so it’s no surprise that they would be prone to remember certain aircraft.
Willie Goodwin, 19th MXG Engineering and technical services specialist, marshals the final C-130E #63-9815, off Little Rock AFB on November 11, 2016. The aircraft retired Dec. 9, 2011, after a tornado damaged the right wing of a C-130H. Despite the E model being in good condition, its right wing was given to the C-130H which had less flying hours. [Courtesy photo by Lt. Col. Elizabeth Clay]
Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Willie “Bill” Goodwin served as a crew chief for 31 years and worked on many aircraft in that time.
"When you work on an aircraft it's like having a favorite car or toy as a kid," Goodwin said. "You become attached to certain ones."
The endurance and consistency of one particular C-130E, Tail No. #63-9815
, fueled the crew chief’s love.
Flying more than 32,983 hours during more than 52 years of service, this E model completed countless cargo and airdrop missions.
"When I was active-duty years ago, this aircraft was one of my best flyers," Goodwin said. "It was one of my babies."
The aircraft fell into Goodwin’s good graces by flying smoothly and never letting him down. The former crew chief was stationed at many bases throughout his career, but like the C-130E, Goodwin kept returning to Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.
Wherever Goodwin went, seeing the E model was a friendly reminder of home.
"I have been assigned to other bases, but that aircraft would taxi through and cause me to stop, reminisce and remember: 'I know that tail number, it's from the 61st Airlift Squadron, I've flown on that aircraft, it’s a good flyer.'"
The aircraft returned after its last mission in Iraq unscathed, but after the E models were pulled out of Iraq to be replaced by H and J models it served in stateside operations only.
Retiring after more than 31 years of active-duty service, Goodwin also returned to Little Rock AFB, this time as a 19th Maintenance Group technical services specialist.
In this capacity, Goodwin continued to serve alongside his beloved E model, witnessing its final days. The aircraft’s fate was forever changed when a tornado hit Little Rock AFB Dec. 9, 2011. Although the C-130E was undamaged, the right wing of a nearby H model was hit during the storm.
Despite the E model still being fit to fight, it was decided its wing would be used to repair the H model that had less flying hours.
"Not that aircraft!" Goodwin recalled. "That's a good aircraft."
For that very reason, the E model was deemed an appropriate donor, but that was not the end of its service. Like Goodwin, the tactical airlift aircraft had not finished serving.
Over the course of its retirement, the nose landing gear and remaining wing were used to sustain two other aircraft. The C-130E was later used as a ground trainer for maintainers and loadmasters.
"It served as a ground trainer until it became obsolete," Goodwin said. "After that, the U.S. Air Force began searching for homes for old ground instructional training aircraft."
It was this line of inquiry that landed the E model with its final mission: being transported on a flatbed truck to Vandenberg Airport in Evansville, Indiana.
"It will be used to train law enforcement, Homeland Security personnel and firefighters to practice real-world scenarios," Goodwin said.
The scenarios will cover responding to fire, hijacking and other emergency situations.
Before Tail No. 9815 could begin its trek to Indiana, its path through base had to be coordinated with Dan Wassom, 19th MXG quality assurance evaluator chief and the 19th Security Forces squadron.
Due to state regulations the aircraft had to be cautiously transported to the back gate, past the fightline it had flown from many times before.
When Goodwin realized that the aircraft would need to be guided once more, he instinctively did what any crew chief would do: marshalled the plane home.
“Goodwin has retired and turned in his uniform and marshalling wands for a pair of khakis and bare hands to marshal the last of the legacy aircraft off the base on a flatbed truck,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Elizabeth Clay, 19th MXG deputy commander.
After more than 84 years of combined service to the U.S. Air Force, neither Goodwin nor the C-130E have stopped giving.
The aircraft continues its legacy as it heads to its final resting place.
"I'm talking about the aircraft like it's a human, but when you serve and put your life on the line and the aircraft doesn't let you down, you remember," Goodwin said. "You remember certain aircraft and tail numbers and how important they are to you."