05 June 2008

Purple Heart recipient 63-7865 retires

An airman with the 86th Airlift Wing salutes on Wednesday at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as C-130E cargo aircraft "63-7865" taxis down the runway for its final flight before retirement. This summer, the wing will retire five of its aging C-130E aircraft. Scott Schonauer / S&S.

The C-130E Hercules, one of the oldest in Air Force inventory, left Ramstein AB on Wednesday for its final resting place at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona.

A plaque on the flight deck tells the storyof how 63-7865 earned its honorary Purple Heart in Vietnam:

On June 1, 1972, the plane took a mortar round through the No. 3 engine while parked on the tarmac at Kontum Air Base. A maintenance team changed out the engine, but the new one failed to start. Pilots had to force the plane to take off with only three engines under "heavy mortar attack," the citation reads.

The aircraft was hit with several more mortar rounds during takeoff, puncturing the wings and damaging the other engines. The plane could climb to only 1,000 feet but made an emergency landing at Plieku Air Base, where mechanics determined it needed two new wings and four new engines.

The 86th Airlift Wing last deployed 63-7865 to the Persian Gulf region last year, during which it flew more hours than any of the wing’s other C-130 cargo aircraft. It flew its last combat mission on Nov. 13, ferrying cargo and troops around Iraq.

Airmen from the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing salute a C-130 Hercules, tail number 63-7865, Nov. 13 in Southwest Asia. The aircraft from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, had just flown its last combat mission. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Tia Schroeder

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