Monday, June 2, 2014

A Flight To Remember

The picture of the C-130A Hercules below was the 126th C-130 aircraft built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation of Marietta, Georgia. It was accepted into the Air Force inventory on August 23, 1957. 












On November 2, 1972, this aircraft was given to the South Vietnamese Government (Air Force) as part of the US Military Assistance Program.

On April 29, 1975, this C-130 was the last aircraft to fly out of South Vietnam before Saigon fell. As over 100 aircraft laid destroyed on the flight line at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, some of them still burning, this was the last flyable C-130 remaining on the Air Base. In a very panicked state, hundreds of people rushed to get aboard it, as this aircraft represented their only option to freedom.

People hurriedly crowded into this aircraft, packing in it tighter and tighter. Eventually, the load master informed the pilot, Major Phuong, a South Vietnamese instructor pilot, that he could not get the rear ramp doors closed due to the number of people who were standing on it. In a moment of inspiration, Major Phuong began to taxi the aircraft forward, slow at first - then faster.  All of a suddenly he slammed on the brakes. The load master immediately called forward stating he had just successfully closed the rear ramp doors.

In all, 452 people were able to get on board this aircraft, 32 of them had to crowd in the cockpit. US Air Force officials, using a conservative estimate of 100 pounds per person, believe this aircraft was overloaded by at least 10,000 pounds. Consequently, this C-130 had to use every bit of the runway and even the entire overrun before it was able to get lift and go airborne.

It's destination was Bangkok, Thailand, which should have been an easy 1 hour and 20 minute flight, but after an hour and a half, the aircraft was still lumbering over the Gulf of Slam and running low on fuel. A map on the aircraft was located and the crew was able to identify some terrain features and were thus able to navigate by sight and land the plane at Utapao, Air Base, Thailand, after a three and a half hour flight.

Ground personnel on Utapao Air Base were shocked at what "fell out" when they opened the aircraft doors. It was clear to everyone observing that a longer flight would have resulted in significant loss of life for many of the passengers. In the end, however, all 452 evacuees on this plane made it to freedom aboard this historic C-130.

The aircraft was reclaimed by the United States Air Force over the next 14 years and assigned to two different Air National Guard units. 

On June 28, 1989, this aircraft made its final flight. It flew to Arkansas where it sits today placed on permanent display for all to see. 

THE NEXT TIME YOU DRIVE THROUGH ARKANSAS, YOU MAY WANT TO DRIVE PAST THE FRONT GATE OF LITTLE ROCK AFB, (ARKANSAS) AND STOP FOR A MOMENT TO TAKE A LOOK AT THIS HISTORIC AIRCRAFT.