JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — On the bright, chilly morning of March 5, a small crowd of onlookers and well-wishers listened to the sound of the Alaska Air National Guard’s C-130H Hercules turboprops recede into the distance for the last time.
The wing’s divesture of the last of the 144th Airlift Squadron’s C-130s marks a sea change for the organization, one of the nation’s largest and busiest Air Guard wings. Since 1957, its tactical airlift aircraft – first C-47 Skytrains and later C-123 Providers — have been at the heart of the its varied missions. The first C-130s, “E” models, arrived in 1976, followed seven years later by the updated “H” models. For more than four decades, these blunt-nosed turboprops have been familiar sights in Alaska’s skies, their rugged design and short-airfield capabilities serving the state well.
Now, U.S. Air Force structure changes included in the 2017 Presidential Budget have divested the Alaska Air National Guard of its eight “legacy” C-130H Hercules aircraft and the tactical airlift mission. As such, these aircraft have, one by one, been transferred to other state Guard units or retired from service.