CHARLOTTE, N.C. --
As the last C-130 Hercules aircraft assigned to the North Carolina Air National Guard departed the runway of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, you could hear the collective sighs and feel the bittersweet emotion sweeping across the base.
“It’s a crew airplane and that is a very special concept…it’s an experience that an entire group of you, whether it’s five or six, get to share for however long they’re gone; that’s the part I really enjoy,” stated retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Fisk Outwater, former Assistant Adjutant General for Air with the North Carolina National Guard, in regards to the C-130 aircraft.
The North Carolina Air National Guard has seen the C-130 on its base since 1971, starting with the B model, culminating in more than 45 years of C-130 aircraft legacy under its wings. This continuity in aircraft, manpower, and mission has led to much success for the unit.
“It’s the only plane I wanted to fly and I flew it on active duty and in the Guard, the B and H models,” stated Brig. Gen. Outwater. “It was just the perfect mission for the Air Guard in my opinion…it’s very versatile, a very forgiving airplane; very resilient and can just do a lot of things other airplanes can’t because of its size.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Todd Kelly, Brig. Generals Outwater, Gary Wilfong, and Lt. Col. Jim Nance all served and retired in the N.C. Air National Guard and are participating in the last flight. The four men shared stories and missions from the past before heading out to the flight line to board the aircraft. The touching tales and chuckles reinforced the beauty of the North Carolina Air National Guard, that despite the change in aircraft and mission, the people are what make the memories; the crews and families are the sturdy foundation upon which this unit is built.
“To me it was pretty clear that C-130s were going to be cut in some drastic numbers, so instead of sitting and waiting, maybe we survived and got the J models or take the leap and go down the path with C-17s. One of the reasons that we rose to the top of the list to get the C-17s was because of the outstanding reputation of our past known from the Guard Bureau all the way to Air Mobility Command and the leaders knew the capability of the Airmen within this organization. It’s going to be bittersweet with the C-130 leaving today but I’m looking forward to the next phase of this organization,” stated retired Maj. Gen. Kelly, former Assistant Adjutant General for Air with the North Carolina National Guard.
For Lt. Col. Brad Holbrooks and Lt. Col. Gary Dodge, it will be their last flight in a C-130H aircraft. Lt. Col. Holbrooks has spent more than 25 years flying the C-130 airframes.
“It’s bittersweet; I look forward to the new mission and airframes, but I’m sad to see the C-130 go,” stated Lt. Col. Holbrooks.
Lt. Col. Dodge will be finding a new position within the North Carolina Air National Guard as the transition takes place. Over the many missions flown throughout the years, Lt. Col. Dodge maintains it’s the people, not the airframes that drive the mission.
“It’s not about where you go, it’s about who you’re with; you can go to the most mundane airport or location; but if you’re with a great crew it makes all the difference,” stated Lt. Col. Dodge.