SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – The phrase “one team, one fight” can often be heard at commanders calls or awards ceremonies all across the Air Force, but Sheppard put that phrase into action when it obtained its newest trainer aircraft.
An MC-130P Combat Shadow out of Moffett Federal Field, California, took its final flight to Sheppard AFB, where it will be used as a trainer aircraft for future generations of crew chief and armament Airmen.
“There is a new Air Force Special Operations Command training requirement and this helps us fulfill that,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Thorp, 363rd Training Squadron commander. “It’s a unique training requirement and this helps us ensure there is not a training deficiency. We wouldn’t be able to do it without this aircraft.”
Rex Coots, 363rd TRS armament training manager, said armament apprentice special missions trainees will be able to perform actual hands-on tasks, which up to this time could only be accomplished through lectures and videos. What task is that? Loading bomb racks on to the wings of the aircraft and then GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb systems.
“So now every class that attends the special missions course will be receiving 24 hours of specific training related to the AC-130 loading and unloading operations,” he said. “This prevents sending trainees to the field that aren’t trained on related tasks.”
Coots said the AFSOC armament career field manager identified the training deficiency during meeting in 2016, at which time the 363rd TRS and the 982nd Maintenance Squadron began working on a solution. The answer was the 52-year-old aircraft that arrived at Sheppard AFB, which will replace an aging trainer aircraft and will be co-utilized between two different training squadrons to reduce the overall cost.
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“We have a memorandum of agreement between the 363rd Training Squadron and the 362nd Training Squadron that will allow co-utilization of the aircraft,” Coots said. “Not only will it be used for the armament systems course but also for the aircraft crew chiefs course.”
It is estimated that the aircraft can be put to use as a trainer in less than a week. Coots said course instructors have been given the go-ahead to begin the stages of placing pylons on the C-130’s wings. He said they are hopeful that the first group of special missions Airmen will be able to complete the three-day section of training the first week of April.
The process for getting this aircraft here was no small feat, as it took the cooperative efforts of 982nd MXS, 82nd Training Group along with the 363rd and 362nd TRS’s.
“The 982nd MXS attended the Utilization and Training Workshop and assisted with three courses of action,” Coots said. “They were to modify the existing C-130 fleet to accept wing weapons pylons, build a wing weapons pylon trainer and to request a C-130 with the capability to install wing weapons pylons.”
Coots said modifying an existing ground instructional training aircraft to meet training requirements would have cost well over $100,000, and building a wing weapons pylon trainer would really meet the needs of the task.
Efforts were then focused on finding aircraft in the Air Force inventory that fit what they were looking for. Two aircraft were located – one on each coast – and it was the one at Moffett Federal Field that could be prepped and flown to Sheppard in the shortest amount of time.
Scott Turner, 982nd MXS aircraft vehicle distribution officer, played an important role in acquiring the new trainer.
“When a training squadron has a need for a training aircraft, I work closely with the training managers and group leadership as they develop the initial request,” he said. “I then work and coordinate with Air Education Training Command, Headquarters Air Force and the Aircraft Program Office as assets become available, such as retiring aircraft.
“Once all the paperwork is complete, we then coordinate directly with the losing organization or base for the physical transfer or last flight.”
Some of the conflicts this aircraft has served in date all the way back to Vietnam and the Cold War.
“It was part of a program called ‘Catch a Falling Star,’ which took place during the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Coots said. “This aircraft would catch (film) canisters dropped by satellites that took pictures of the world.”
About the size of a garbage can, these canisters were among the first objects sent into space that were designed to survive re-entry. Upon entering the ionosphere, they could resemble a shooting, or falling star. Thus the motto “to catch a falling star,” Coots mentioned.
MC-130s assigned to the 6594th Test Group would catch the jettisoned canisters over the Pacific Ocean. When not catching canisters, the aircraft would be used in search and rescue missions.
Since its birth in 1966, this C-130 has served the U.S. in many different commands around the world.
“It served in Vietnam with the Air Force Special Operations Command and it was also in the Air Combat Command in 1994,” said Col. Fred Foote, 130th Rescue Squadron pilot for the California Air National Guard. “Here at Sheppard it will be used for training for many years.”
Foote said he is happy that it will continue to be used in the Air Force.