October 16, 2017 (by Seth Robson) - The last C-130H Hercules cargo plane in the active-duty Air Force bid sayonara to Japan on Monday.
USAF C-130H #74-1661 from 36 AS leaves propeller tip vortices in its wake as it takes off from Yokota AB, October 16, 2017. The Hercules was the last in The Air Force’s active-duty C-130H inventory. [USAF photo by Yasuo Osakabe]
The aircraft was the last of its kind assigned to the Yokota-based 36th Airlift Squadron, which has been trading out its 14 H-models for newer J-models in recent months.
"It's sad to see it go," said Lt. Col. John Kerr, shortly before he took the controls of the old Herc for a long flight to Montana. Like the other H-models, the plane will take on new jobs for the Air National Guard.
The trip home was also Kerr's last flight. He's retiring from the Air Force and looking for a work in commercial aviation, he said.
Before the plane lifted off, Col. Kevin Wade — a C-130 pilot and commander of the 515th Air Mobility Operations Group — told members of the 36th that new planes won't mean a change of culture.
"Your blood and sweat stopped genocide in East Timor, it relieved flood and earthquake victims in places such as Malaysia, Nepal and Japan," he said.
Wade recalled a difficult packing job on a C-130H that was supporting a team looking for the remains of missing U.S. servicemen from the Vietnam War.
"Our Port Dawg (logistics airman) and our loadmaster … did what could best be described as real-life Tetris," he said. "They managed to fit every single person and all of their equipment into the back of that aircraft."
The plane was able to get to Phnom Penh for the first repatriation ceremony of a fallen American servicemember since the Vietnam War, he said.
On a trip to Osan Air Base, a crew chief swam through water surrounding a Herc to attach a tow bar. On a trip to Kadena Air Base, an air crew flight equipment airman administered oxygen to a pregnant space-available passenger while calming her worried husband, Wade said.
"We are known for action when the situation dictates and compassion when our friends need it," he said.
The H-models did incredible work during their 28 years at Yokota, said 374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Kenneth Moss.
"Those planes … have given some people their first flight to freedom or their last flight home to a final resting place and been a part of people's lives everywhere in between," he said.
Yokota continues to be the most important air base in the world, Moss added.
"While the country of Japan sheds tears today for the departure of the H-model, I look at them also as tears of joy as we cement the continuing relationship between America and Japan for a great future," he said.