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"Hollywood Guard" reaches milestone with 6-ship formation flight

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Michelle Ulber
  • 146th Airlift Wing

Amid the challenges serving in the Air National Guard during the pandemic known as COVID-19, California Air National Guard maintainers from the 146th Maintenance Group (146 MXG) and aircrew from the 115th Airlift Squadron (115 AS) collaborated to accomplish the launching of 6 C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for the first time in over 20 years on May 26, 2020.

With a large crowd of airmen gathering to witness the historical event known as “the elephant walk,” the colossal aircraft began taxiing down the runway in tight formation. Among the spectators watching the landmark event was Col. John Ramos, Commander of the 146 MXG.

Two months previously, Ramos began strategizing how he’d accomplish his vision of a 6-ship formation. Facing an unprecedented career field-wide workforce shortage and a viral pandemic, the 146 MXS had accomplished what Ramos says seemed improbable, until help arrived in the form of additional maintainers activated for COVID-19 support.

“I summoned my Maintenance Group chiefs and officers to coordinate this lofty goal,  and it was initially met with resistance for a good reason. Two of the aircraft we wanted to use were scheduled for heavy maintenance, and there was some real doubt they’d be ready in time. When we got additional forces to help bolster our maintainers, we continued to move forward as planned,” said Ramos.

As days passed, the 146 MXG would gain the momentum needed to accomplish the required maintenance on all 6 of the aircraft. Ramos says the squadron was starting to feel an extra boost of enthusiasm and a renewed sense of pride.

“There was a new buzz in the air, and our guys started pressing on cohesively and efficiently. It wasn’t long before we realized that our goal was starting to become more of a reality. It was truly amazing to witness our maintainers in action,” said Ramos.

With the scheduled aircraft maintenance coming along smoothly for the squadron, the promising outlook of a 6-ship formation looked good. For the first time since May 2002 when the wing received its first C-130J aircraft, the squadron was ready to witness another 6-ship formation.

That outlook would change one night before the scheduled launch, as the maintenance team discovered a major problem according to Ramos. 

“One night before the event we had to ground one of the aircraft for safety, as a piece of the landing gear was found with a discrepancy during a preflight inspection. It seemed that what we had set out to accomplish was now becoming nearly impossible,” said Ramos.

With little time to spare, the 146 MXG rallied tirelessly that evening though the next morning to return the aircraft to service. The 6-ship formation would go off without a hitch, thanks to the maintainer’s perseverance and tenacity. Ramos, who believes the successful launching of the 6 aircraft will have lasting impacts for his maintainers says it was a fantastic achievement to accomplish during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To observe all 6 aircraft parked on our ramp, watching them start engines, taxiing all in line, and watching them go airborne one by one was a sight to behold. There were tears of joy flowing from the eyes of our experienced maintainers, having never witnessed such an amazing feat in their careers. Overwhelmingly, it has boosted morale with pride of ownership now permeating throughout the organization. It has also enhanced relationships with our aircrew. It’s a significant step towards our continued quest to be the best C-130J unit in the U.S. Air Force and to preserve the 146th Airlift Wing’s multiple mission sets at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station for many more years to come,” said Ramos.