Herk surpass 50 years of military service

1st Lt. Tracy Giles
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***(Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a three-part series highlighting the C-130 Hercules)
What makes a
legend? History, experience and reputation?
C-130 Hercules aircraft, or “Herks” as they are affectionately called, have plenty of each with tons to spare.
Ramstein’s Herks range in age from 34 to 41 years, flying missions today much like the rest of the Air Force’s C-130 fleet have been doing consistently for 50 years.***image2***
Starting in 1954, the first Herk was flown, according to http://www.historynet.com/ahi/
blthefourhorsemen. Shortly thereafter in 1957, the Four Horsemen, a group of C-130 pilots, organized an aerial team to demonstrate how good the plane really was and how good the pilots were at flying it.
Ever since those early days, pilots and aircrews have continued to push the Herk to its limits accumulating endless stories of heroic feats performed in the plane.
One example includes Ramstein’s own tail number 7865, otherwise known as “Purple Heart.” It was built in 1963 and achieved legendary status when it took mortar fire from the Viet Cong during a Vietnam Easter offensive in 1972.
“I was on the crew that went in to recover her (7865) at Kontum, South Vietnam,” said then Sergeant Rick Ivars, who was a loadmaster with the 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron out of Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, Taiwan. “We received a rocket and mortar attack and must have gotten at least 10 or 15 rockets and mortars (in close proximity to the aircraft). In fact, one went off right by the left wing.”
Sergeant Ivars said that after the attack, the crew went back to getting the engine ready and started the first three when the fourth engine caught fire. They quickly shut it down and he jumped into the aircraft with the maintenance crew who were guarding the plane to prevent civilians from jumping on board.
“As we started the engines, the Viet Cong started lobbing more mortars and rockets,” he said. “We made a three-engine takeoff out of there. We couldn’t gain much altitude and we were losing fuel real bad so we headed for the closest field and made a three-engine landing.”***image3***
Another example demonstrating the strength of the Herk took place 22 years later in Sarajevo, Bosnia, during Operation Provide Promise in 1994.
Col. Randy Kee, 86th Operations Group commander, then Capt. Kee, said the Herks often encountered ground fire from enemy forces as they approached the Sarajevo landing strip.
On one specific occasion, a companion Herk from his fleet withstood multiple AK-47 rounds across the windscreen causing the glass to shatter. Luckily no one was hurt.
During another incident also on the landing approach, a loadmaster had his communications cord shot and severed in two.
“The Herk is built to take rounds. There’s foam in the tanks and the wings so when the plane gets hit it will not cause an explosion,” said Colonel Kee. “Herk folks have a serious loyalty and love for their planes. There’s passion because of the history and pride in the maintainers who have an amazing ability to make these 30- to 40-year-old planes look new.”
There’s also excitement.
Staff Sgt. Brian Ghent, 86th Operations Support Squadron loadmaster, has flown on Herks for nine years and said he absolutely loves it.
“Low flying missions are great because they’re dangerous and I get an adrenaline rush every time,” Sergeant Ghent said. “These planes have been in actual combat situations. Every time I get on the plane I know I can fly with confidence because it’s a proven performer.”
A large part of that performance is due to the Herk’s versatility and capability to carry just about anything.
Sergeant Ghent says that in his time on the Herk, he’s loaded and hauled tanks, food, porta-potties and even a boat.
The sergeant said the plane can handle loads weighing more than 50,000 pounds at maximum capacity.
In addition to their work capabilities, Ramstein’s Herks tend to have personalities of their own.
Lt. Col. John Reid, 37th Airlift Squadron commander, elaborated on this by saying that on some planes the number one engine may start warm and on another the bleed supply may be low.
“Each plane has its own quirks and capabilities,” he said. “1264, for example, is known to be a strong flyer.”
In years past, Colonel Reid also flew Herks regularly and said that before he took his bird to the sky, he would often rub the nose of the plane and encourage it to treat the crew right and get the mission done.
He’s flown other planes, but said he’s always glad to come back to the Herk, where he said it just feels like home. And while he can’t vouch for other pilots’ emotions or feelings, he said that many of his fellow operators and maintainers feel the same.***image4***
“The Herk is special because it requires a lot of human interaction to fulfill the mission,” he said. “And it’s unique because it looks like a bulldog, has straight wings, four fans and a big old tail.
“For our 41-year-old planes, it’s truly a testament to the ability of our maintainers to be able to keep the airplanes running as well as they do and it’s a testament to the quality of the airframe that was built,” Colonel Reid said. “And of course there’s no sound better than the Herk’s four ‘fans of freedom’ that give the distinct sound of confidence, strength and power with a proven capability.”
Long live the Herk and may its legend endure for decades to come.
(For more infomation on the U.S. Air Force history of the C-130 Hercules, visit http://www.afa.org/