Friday, May 04, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Farewell, C-130E

Little Rock Air Force Base this week retired its last active-duty C-130E, which was made in 1961, and flew it to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where the 51-year-old cargo plane will join a static display.

The C-130Es have turned out to be perhaps the best investment in Air Force history: The planes, made between 1961 and 1965 at the Lockheed assembly line in Marietta, Ga., cost about $2 million ($15.4 million in today’s dollars), or only about $40,000 a year, not counting fuel over the life of the plane: By comparison, the new C-130Js cost about $65 million, and although they have computerized navigational features unheard of in 1961, they’re still about four times as expensive as the old planes even when accounting for inflation.

The C-130s were rebuilt, repainted and refitted over the decades, and like a priceless 1962 T-Bird, they never faltered. It’s a tribute to American engineering: Designed back in 1954, the C-130s could fly for another generation if needed. They are the favored transport plane among our allies—far better than the old Soviet cargo planes, which are prone to frequent crashes.

The C-130E saw action in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world. The C-130s have delivered personnel and cargo and reduced the need for dangerous ground transports that are often threatened with roadside bombs and snipers.

Having flown for a half-century from Antarctica to South America, the old C-130s did more than their share of humanitarian relief: From Albania to Haiti, from Afghanistan to Serbia, from Burma to Libya, from Japan to Kosovo and dozens of places in between, they were there when people were cold and hungry and homeless.

Col. Brian Robinson, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, led a retirement ceremony Tuesday at Little Rock Air Force Base before the C-130E took off for California. “This plane represents a milestone in the history of the C-130 and the history of the Air Force,” Robinson said. “It’s been to every remote corner of the planet. She never rested. She did her mission to the end.”

They were a grand bargain indeed. Even as Little Rock Air Force Base transitions to an all-C-130J active-duty fleet, some C-130Es will still remain with the Air National Guard and Reserves at the base. But every time an old plane is retired, we start missing them. A big bang for the buck for sure.