Ship #496 Has Interesting History
Have you ever thought about what happens to an aircraft when it
"retires?" 440th Reservists often see Airmen retire, but seldom
think about the retirement of the C-130s they flew.
Aircraft #560496, a C-130A model, was replaced with a C-130H in
1989 when the 440th received its new fleet of modern aircraft. A
workhorse in the military world, aircraft #496 wasn't destined for
the "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ. Instead, the
C-130 "lives" a rich legacy, and is still serving the Army and Air
Force today at the US Army Yuma Proving Ground.
"The aircraft came off the line at Lockheed in 1957," said Mark
Heflin, the current caretaker of the C-130. "When the aircraft
arrived at its first duty station of Ardmore AFB, Okla., in late
1957 it was one of the newest aircraft in Tactical Airlift Command
and was selected as a 'camera ship' for filming of a movie called
In 1959, #496 was transferred to Sewart AFB in Tennessee. From
1962-1970 the C-130 was assigned to the 817th Tactical Airlift
Squadron at Naha Air Base, Okinawa. The "bird" flew multiple
missions in Vietnam. In 1971, the aircraft was returned to the US
and the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing was disbanded, so the aircraft
was given to the Air Force Reserve. Aircraft #496 remained with the
440th Airlift Wing from September 1971 through August 1989.
But the aircraft didn't die
when it "retired" from the 95th Airlift Squadron in Milwaukee. "A
whole batch of A-models were getting turned in, and the Air Force
offered them up to the US Forest service to fight fires," said
Heflin, who serves as the operations officer for the Airborne Test
Force at the Yuma Proving Grounds. "The Forest Service took the
planes, but didn't have a budget to operate them. So the C-130s
were sold to industry under a certification that restricted them to
flying solely for the US government."
Some companies converted them to firefighter tankers. The C-130
with the tail # 560496 initially was sent to Wyoming to be
transformed into a fire tanker, but the conversion never took
place. Eventually, #496 was sold to International Air Response and
the plan once again was to convert it to a fire tanker. However,
for a variety of reasons the conversion didn't take place and the
aircraft sat deteriorating on an airfield in California.
IAR determined in 2006 that it would not be economically
feasible to return the aircraft to flying condition and began using
it for "parts". The Airborne Test Force at Yuma purchased the C-130
in 2007 to help with its testing and training mission.
"The Guard and Reserve are notorious for taking really good care
of aircraft," said Heflin. "Aircraft #496 was no exception. The
440th did a great job preserving and caring for this aircraft when
it was in their possession. It was the perfect C-130 for us to test
and train with."
The Airborne Test Force requires the use of aircraft during the
very early stages of prototype programs to conduct fit and
functionality tests of new aerial delivery components, equipment
and systems. The developmental testing directly benefits the ATF's
Department of Defense customers as jumpers and dispatch crews
perform pretest rehearsals and complicated airborne test
operations. The 440th's former aircraft has full electrical and
hydraulic power in the cargo compartment, providing lights,
auxiliary power for a winch and a functional cargo ramp. The test
force also installed a cargo handling system. All of these features
enhance developmental testing of new combat vehicles, combat
systems (ranging from artillery to mobile fuel and water
transportation systems) to the development of new aerial delivery
systems and parachutes.
"Whenever we test new vehicles, we see if they can be
air-transported," said Heflin. "If it fits on a 'Herc,' it will
most likely go on any Air Mobility Command cargo aircraft. So we
wanted to have a fuselage (not necessarily a flyable plane) to
perform loading tests on. We also want to do fit and function to
ensure it fits on a plane. For example, the power source and cable
routing must be able to interface with aircraft in the field."
Heflin traced the history on tail # 560496 through the Air
University at Maxwell AFB IN Alabama, and tracked down the life
cycle of airplane. He's proud to say #496 is still active in the
Global War on Terror. The dimensions of A and J model are same,
floor strength the same, ramp angle the same.
"The only difference in the backend is the rollers on the J
model flip over and are a little bit lower," he said. "But the
interface is the same and doesn't affect vehicles, so we are still
actively testing new equipment for the war."
The Enhanced Combat Vehicle (ECV), an updated HUMVEE, was tested
on # 496 in March, and when eventually fielded will be heading
toward the AOR. The Yuma unit intends on using the 440th's retired
aircraft to test a wireless gate release mechanism, designed to
drop container delivery systems without using the aircraft's winch,
pulleys and knives.
"When the system's 'green light' goes on, it will electronically
activate the gate," said Heflin. "If it makes it through our static
testing process on the C-130, it will most likely transition to
live testing and if successful be implemented and fielded to reduce
the potential of malfunction."
Heflin said the 440th should be proud its bird is still serving
its citizen Airmen. "This C-130 (#496) is an amazing thing -- the
Army is moving toward future combat systems - and we still have one
of the oldest C-130s still on active duty, now paving the way to
The aircraft's caretaker is looking for Airmen who flew #496
while assigned to the 440th AW under the 95th Airlift Squadron. He
is hoping to identify noteworthy missions or photos depicting the
aircraft during its prime airdropping days.
"Bringing her (#496) here is labor of love," he said. "We want
to honor the rich legacy of this particular aircraft that continues
to serve." Reservists and retired 440th members who flew Aircraft
#56496 from 1972-1989 may contact him at Mark.Heflin@us.army.mil.
(Aero-News salutes Lt. Col. Ann Peru Knabe, 440th Airlift
Wing Public Affairs.)