Four Fans Turning: The Oregon Air National Guard' s C-130 Hercules Program

  • Published
  • By Fighter Wing History Office
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office
Note: This article is a companion piece to the December, 2013, 142FW history article titled "Enlisted Aircrew of the Oregon Air Guard: Strangers to the Ground."

Following the service of Oregon Air National Guard (OreANG) enlisted aircrew aboard piston-engine support aircraft such as the C-47, C-54 and C-131, a new generation of enlisted aircrew took to the skies in the turboprop-engine Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and became the last enlisted aircrews to fly for the OreANG.

The OreANG's association with the C-130 began in 1986, as it replaced the Convair C-131 in service. "The 33-year-old C-131 'Beaver 31' has been the mainstay transport since 1972 for everything from deployments to flying the Governor," said pilot Major Jerry Thompson at the time of transition.

The pilots were all OreANG officers and initially trained at Duke Field #5, at Hurlburt Field, Florida; Hurlburt gave the C-130A ground school training with a flight simulator. Thompson and Major Lyle Cabe (both later became Colonels) were selected and spent four weeks at Hurlburt, followed by four more weeks of flight training with the Tennessee ANG in Memphis, Tenn. The lead pilot for the OreANG C-130A program was Shane Griffin; other Oregon pilots who flew the C-130 included Terry McKinsey, Jim Balch, Bill Blair, and Jack Fisher.

The MVP's in this program were the ground and aircrews, which include the new generation of enlisted aircrews, who trained with the pilots in Memphis, Tenn. The flight engineers were Henry Bruneau and Bob Hylton; the loadmasters were Jerry Baird, Mike Steinmann, and Tim Billman.

Flight Story by Senior Master Sgt. Jerry Baird
"Our training had progressed to the point that Memphis ANG trusted us to fly their airplane by ourselves, so we taxied-out for a nice day of flying. The F-4 pilot was in the left seat and our C-130 instructor rated pilot in the right seat. The C-131 guy sat in the navigator's seat and I stood behind the F-4 driver.

Since the airplane was empty and Memphis IAP was home base to Federal Express, it was a very busy airport; I figured an extra set of eyes behind the new C-130 driver might be a good thing.

Two things need to be mentioned here. The runway at Memphis IAP is built on three hills. Thus, your take-off run is down the first hill, you semi-fly over the second hill, slam down into the gully between the first and second hill, and then launch off the third hill like a rocket.

The second thing to mention is just how pampered the fighter pilots are. You see they have electric powered seats in fighters, where as our 30-plus-year-old C-130 has mechanical adjusted seats. Well our new C-130/F-4 pilot had adjusted his seat, placed his right hand on the propeller condition levers and his left hand on the nose wheel steering control, 'all ready to go.'

We were cleared for take-off and started our roll, the pilots both advanced the prop condition levers to tale-off position and we blasted down the first hill. When we crested the second hill, the airplane had enough airspeed that the pilot moved his left hand from the nose-wheel steering to the control column. With this much airspeed, the pilot uses the rudder pedals to direct the aircraft. The airplane had also lifted just enough so the pilot was raised a little bit off the seat.

Zinging down into the gully, his weight slams back on to the seat, and the seat that had not been fully locked into position. The pilot's seat does an immediate roll back, pulling the pilot with it. The pilots hands are now 12 inches from the control column and his feet are back from the rudder pedals, I swear his eyes were sticking out. Also, the pilot yells to the co-pilot 'YOU GOT IT! YOU GOT IT' and the co-pilot finished the takeoff.

After everything was over, we had quite a laugh at the pilot's expense; good guy that he is he laughed too."

The OreANG's 142nd Fighter-Interceptor Group (FIG) at Portland Air Base was the very first ANG fighter group to receive the C-130 as an operational support aircraft, and picked up its first temporary C-130 in June 1986, at Rickenbacker AFB, Ohio. The aircraft helped the OreANG with movements of high-priority passengers. As well as cargo with time, place, or mission-sensitive requirements, which was a vital capability given the 24/7 air defense alert responsibility of the organization, especially at the height of the Cold War.

A total of four C-130A transports were assigned to the OreANG; three were temporary and were only assigned one at a time. However, C-130A-9-LM tail #56-0531 was permanently assigned to the 142nd FIG, which flew the C-130 from 1986 to 1990. C-130A #531 began USAF service in December, 1957, and was a true combat veteran of the Vietnam War with a number of bullet hole patches in its belly.

The OreANG's #531, made its first flight cross country in the fall of 1986 and had engine trouble in Milwaukee, Wis., landing gear trouble in Buffalo, N.Y., and spark plug/engine ignition problems in Burlington, Vt. New aircraft, and old aircraft, always bring challenges to overcome.

Oregon's C-130 Hercules, call sign "Beaver 41," flew all over the U.S. and Alaska, covering a total of 20 states. C-130A #531 was the only C-130 in the USAF inventory painted in aircraft gray with a big "Redhawk" on its tail. It was a conversation piece wherever it landed.

C-130A #531 flew with external fuel tanks which caused increased drag and lower airspeeds; however, the shiny new aircraft gray paint helped cancel out the drag.

The turboprop engines on the C-130A were not trouble free. The Allison T-56 engines had 18 engine changes in the first year and a half with the OreANG. These troubled engines were from the depot and the problems were not due to OreANG maintenance. In fact, Oregon maintainers did an exceptional job to keep the C-130 going.

The end of the OreANG C-130 program came on Feb. 6, 1990, when C-130A #531, with the big Redhawk, departed Portland, Ore. It was transferred to U.S. Forest Service in Redmond, Ore. and served on as an aerial tanker fighting forest fires in the western states for the next decade or so.

Another C-130 was temporarily assigned to the OreANG when delays for the new Fairchild C-26 Metroliner operational support aircraft were experienced. Unfortunately, the OreANG's C-130 mission ended for good on July 6, 1990. Subsequently, the enlisted aircrews all left Oregon for other C-130 jobs except Jerry Baird, who stayed on with the OreANG in Mobility, and Mike Steinmann, who went to the 142nd Medical clinic.

The OreANG's C-130 operational support aircraft mission was an efficient and valuable compliment to the 142nd FIG's fighter-interceptors service at the twilight of the Cold War. Thompson said in 1986, "...we have increased our capacity to more readily facilitate our deployment capability."

Without it, air and ground crews, jet engines, and other critical spare parts could not have been efficiently transported to support OreANG fighter-interceptor aircraft deployed away from home station. Many long delays, with an adverse mission impact, would have accrued using other slower or less-responsive means of transportation.