Forty years ago, I worked as an aircraft mechanic before returning to my original career as a writer. During that time I worked on airplanes as diverse as supersonic Navy F-14 Tomcat fighters and small commuter “puddle jumpers” like Shorts SD330 “Winnebagos” and Fairchild Metro III “Sewer Pipes”. But the apple of my eye was always a frumpy, dumpy, lizard-skinned USAF C-130 Hercules named the Aerospace Chicken (Tail No. 70-1259). We affectionately called them “Trash Haulers” because they carried everything — sometimes, quite literally as I did once, trash.
Around the World with the Aerospace Chicken
From 1979-1981, I was the “Crew Chief”, or lead mechanic, assigned to the Chicken. It was my job to go with my airplane no matter where it went and during the Cold War, we went a lot of places. From my home base in Fayetteville, NC, I spent almost 3 years of my 4 year enlistment out of the country on temporary duty assignments (TDYs). In those three short years the Chicken (and her predecessors in my heart, Tail Nos. 64-0499 and 70-1270) took me to every continent on Earth except Australia and Antarctica — 18 countries in all.
The Chicken captured my heart for her ability to always be ready for adventure. In the Air Force, if your airplane works, you travel. Hangar Queens need not apply. You garner great stories and get to do amazing things. Sometimes you even meet a spy or win a prize.
I think about her now in much the same way I think of my daughter as a child. I remember both of us as young. She was born as a C-130E in April 1971 in Marietta, GA. She was the first child in a family of 17 American siblings (some others were ordered by Iran and Libya) built that year. She was about 5,000 flying hours old during our life together.
She and her siblings retired from USAF service more than a decade ago as respectable old ladies, but hurting from a lifetime of hard living. She and her siblings suffered from cracked wings that helped accelerate their demise, but a few lucky ones were spruced up and sold to Poland where they are flying well into their golden years. The rest are beer cans and entries in dusty production logs now, but the Chicken became a special case. Today her nose lives in the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum in Colorado.
I am not a particularly introspective or retrospective man, but I miss you old girl, just as I miss my daughter as a child and being in my 20s again. We lived so many years in that short time in the sun. When I think of our travels I tear up for the times we had and the people we met and lived with. You brought out the best of me and for that I am eternally grateful.
You’re as human to me, maybe more so, than some “real” humans. Let’s celebrate that.
Click the arrows to take a stroll through Memory Lane
- BADA** Aviator of the Day: Pilot Puts C-130 Hercules Down On the Beach – Margaritas Anyone? (buzzpo.com)
- Alaska Air National Guard members deploying to Middle East (alaskapublic.org)
- PHOTO: Look Out Below (strategypage.com)
- Gulf War 25th Anniversary Special: how a U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat shot down an Iraqi Mi-8 Hip helicopter 25 years ago today (theaviationist.com)