The U.S. Air Force’s special operations tanker, the MC-130H Combat Talon II, took off for the last time from Hurlburt Field, Florida, over the weekend. Its destination: retirement.
The aircraft with Tail Number 89-0280 was flown to the “Boneyard”—the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. There, it—along with 17 other MC-130Hs—will undergo regular maintenance, including anti-corrosion maintenance, in case it needs to one day return to service, USAF said.
The facility is the largest aircraft storage and preservation facility in the world, according to USAF.
The flight marked the end of an era for the Air Force Special Operations Command, which has operated the tanker for more than three decades for operations that included infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces and equipment, as well as air refueling operations. Those operations will now be performed by the MC-130J Commando II, which is also replacing an aging fleet of MC-130E and P aircraft.
The tanker has played a vital role in AFSOC operations, according to the service. It was used to evacuate American civilians from times of conflict in Liberia and the Republic of Congo.
“In 2001, MC-130Hs were employed to seize an airfield in southern Afghanistan, delivering U.S. Army Rangers to commence ground operations in Operation Enduring Freedom,” the U.S. Air Force said. “Later in 2003, the MC-130H was the first U.S. aircraft to land at Baghdad International Airport to initiate missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.” For the past 20 years, it has been used extensively in humanitarian and combat operations, it said.
Before aircraft 89-0280 took off for the last time, the ground crew at Hurlburt Field did one last ritual of rubbing its rounded nose.
“There’s special things you do whenever a plane leaves,” U.S. Staff Sgt. Kevin Rutkowski, a former crew chief with the 15th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Hurlburt Field, said in a statement. “With the MC-130H, I used to give it a big hug on the nose and tell it goodbye and to keep my friends safe. I did that every single time.”