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Time Tested: Airman, aircraft serve 21 years together

SOUTHWEST ASIA --

Since entering active military service in 1956, the C-130 Hercules has earned its place in the storied history of air power, time and time again. From Vietnam all the way up through Operation Inherent Resolve, the C-130 has always made a name for itself.

For Master Sgt. Norbert Feist, a C-130H crew chief assigned to the 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, one C-130 in particular, has a special place in his personal Air Force storybook.

A Minnesota Air National Guardsman deployed here from the 133rd Airlift Wing, Feist has been working on C-130 tail number 1004 for 21 of the 30 year he’s been in service. He’s been the lead crew chief on that aircraft for the last 12 years.

“I’ve been with this aircraft since it was almost brand new,” Feist said. “One guy did the factory acceptance inspections on it, and I’ve been running it ever since. I definitely have a really good bond with her, and I’m glad I never had to switch airplanes.”

As would be expected over the 21 years Feist has spent with tail 1004, he has developed a sense of ownership and responsibility toward the airplane that he has spent more than two-thirds of his career with. Not unlike an airman with a long service record, tail 1004 has its own personality quirks.

“The crew door has always been tough to open; It’s been tough since it was new,” said Feist. “I’ve been fighting that door for 21 years. After so long, you get to know a plane, and the little intricacies that come with it. And we always get the weird stuff, like right now we are repairing a bird strike, when just a few years ago we hit one in Yuma. It flies really well for a while, and then something odd like that happens.”

Regardless of random birds, stubborn doors, or other oddities, tail 1004 has coincidentally been mission-ready when needed.

“I call it the bilge pump, because it’s always been there to bail another plane out,” boasted Feist. “The minute it sits spare, I know that another plane is going to have an issue, and mine will get called up. If it is on alert status, it always seems to get called up to save the day.”

It’s that resilience that gives Feist a sense of pride in his mission and his aircraft. Currently on his ninth deployment, Feist has a keen understanding of the impact he and his aircraft have on the mission here.

“Deployments are when you get to do the job that you’ve trained for, and it’s a lot of work to keep these airplanes flying in these austere conditions,” said Feist. “It’s either solid with people or solid with pallets, and always at max weight between cargo, people, and fuel. We’re at full utilization, no doubt about it.”

The C-130 Hercules primarily performs the tactical portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas, according to the official Air Force fact sheet on the aircraft. This versatility and demand take a toll on the time-tested but venerable aircraft.

“The mission over here is hauling beans, bullets, and people. We go up-country, and what we do is very important,” said Feist. “Our mission is important because we are getting people to the fight, and we’re hauling the materials that are required for the fight, so we’re definitely very much part of the mission for sure.”