17th SOS pays tribute to MC-130P retirement

A MC-130P Combat Shadow crew and maintainers prepare to start engines before conducting a 4-ship formation flight Oct. 16, 2014 at Kadena Air Base, Japan.  The formation flight marks the beginning of the retirement for the Combat Shadow in the Pacific, as the unit transitions to the MC-130J Commando II.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

A MC-130P Combat Shadow crew and maintainers prepare to start engines before conducting a 4-ship formation flight Oct. 16, 2014 at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The formation flight marks the beginning of the retirement for the Combat Shadow in the Pacific, as the unit transitions to the MC-130J Commando II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Four MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft perform an overhead break maneuver Oct. 16, 2014 at Kadena Air Base, Japan during a formation flight.  The 17th Special Operations Squadron used the formation flight to pay tribute to the Combat Shadow as it begins retirement.  The unit will transition to the MC-130J Commando II over the next year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Four MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft perform an overhead break maneuver Oct. 16, 2014 at Kadena Air Base, Japan during a formation flight. The 17th Special Operations Squadron used the formation flight to pay tribute to the Combat Shadow as it begins retirement. The unit will transition to the MC-130J Commando II over the next year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Four MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft taxi on the runway of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014. The aircraft flew in a four-ship formation to mark the retirement of the MC-130P. The first of the aircraft will retire next week, and this is the last time a four-ship Combat Shadow formation will fly at Kadena. (U.S. Air Force photo by Stephen G. Eigel)

Four MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft taxi on the runway of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014. The aircraft flew in a four-ship formation to mark the retirement of the MC-130P. The first of the aircraft will retire next week, and this is the last time a four-ship Combat Shadow formation will fly at Kadena. (U.S. Air Force photo by Stephen G. Eigel)

Four MC-130P Combat Shadows taxi through the water arch after completing a final 4-ship formation flight Oct. 16, 2014.  Over the next year, the MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft in the Pacific will be replaced with the MC-130J Commando II.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Four MC-130P Combat Shadows taxi through the water arch after completing a final 4-ship formation flight Oct. 16, 2014. Over the next year, the MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft in the Pacific will be replaced with the MC-130J Commando II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Loadmasters from the 17th Special Operations Squadron monitor an MC-130P Combat Shadow during taxi into a parking spot in sequence with three other MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft on the flight line of Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014. The MC-130P Combat Shadow crew consists of two pilots, two navigators, a flight engineer, a communications systems operator and two loadmasters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith James)

Loadmasters from the 17th Special Operations Squadron monitor an MC-130P Combat Shadow during taxi into a parking spot in sequence with three other MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft on the flight line of Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014. The MC-130P Combat Shadow crew consists of two pilots, two navigators, a flight engineer, a communications systems operator and two loadmasters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith James)

Two MC-130P Combat Shadows assigned to the 17th Special Operations Squadron fly off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014. The MC-130P conducts single or multi-ship infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith James)

Two MC-130P Combat Shadows assigned to the 17th Special Operations Squadron fly off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014. The MC-130P conducts single or multi-ship infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith James)

An MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft lands on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16,2014. The aircraft flew in a four-ship formation to mark its retirement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Stephen G. Eigel)

An MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft lands on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16,2014. The aircraft flew in a four-ship formation to mark its retirement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Stephen G. Eigel)

Members from 17th Special Operations Squadron fly an MC-130P Combat Shadow around the coast of Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014 during a four-ship formation. All Pacific-based MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft will be retired over the next year and replaced with the MC-130J Commando II. The flight marked the last time the Combat Shadows will conduct a four-ship formation at Kadena. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith James)

Members from 17th Special Operations Squadron fly an MC-130P Combat Shadow around the coast of Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014 during a four-ship formation. All Pacific-based MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft will be retired over the next year and replaced with the MC-130J Commando II. The flight marked the last time the Combat Shadows will conduct a four-ship formation at Kadena. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith James)

Four MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft from the 17th Special Operations Squadron conduct a 4-ship formation off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014. The MC-130P conducts single or multi-ship infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces.  Retiring and being replaced by the MC-130J Commando II, the flight marked the last time the Combat Shadow will conduct a four-ship formation at Kadena. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith James)

Four MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft from the 17th Special Operations Squadron conduct a 4-ship formation off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 16, 2014. The MC-130P conducts single or multi-ship infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces. Retiring and being replaced by the MC-130J Commando II, the flight marked the last time the Combat Shadow will conduct a four-ship formation at Kadena. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith James)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

From providing helicopter air-to-air refueling to conducting long-range support of Special Operations Forces, the MC-130P Combat Shadow has provided a critical service to the U.S. military for nearly 50 years.

The 17th Special Operations Squadron highlighted the beginning of the MC-130P Combat Shadow retirement with one final formation flight on Oct. 16, 2014 at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

“Today's final 4-ship formation flight was the 17th Special Operations Squadron's tribute to the heritage and legacy of this fine aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Nathan Colunga, 17th SOS commander. “This event marks the historic beginning of the end for the MC-130P Combat Shadow in the Pacific. It has served our command well, but ultimately it is time to retire the fleet and bring out the MC-130J Commando II as its replacement.”

Built with 1960s technology, the MC-130P began its special operations career in the mid-1980s and went on to conduct critical air refueling missions in the late 1980s during Operation Just Cause in Panama and the early 1990s during Operation Desert Storm.

Since the early 1990s, the Air Force Special Operations Command looked to replace the aging aircraft with cutting edge technology, but the Combat Shadow managed to prove its worth within the special operations community time and again.

“Almost every aircraft in the Air Force inventory has been employed for a greater length of time and scope than initially expected,” said Mr. Stephen Ove, 353rd Special Operations Group historian. “The people make that possible. Right up to the date of its retirement, the Combat Shadow continues to remain a specialized air mobility platform called upon during the nation’s time of need. The ingenious designers, exceptionally trained operators and determined maintainers kept the Combat Shadow relevant in an ever-changing world.”

The Pacific-based Combat Shadows alone have supported more than a dozen named operations. From combat missions in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom to humanitarian assistance disaster relief operations across Asia, the Combat Shadow left its mark in special operations history.

With an old airframe comes a long history that inspires and motivates those who contribute to its mission today. From the aircrew who execute the mission to the maintainers enable it, each will have bittersweet thoughts of the Combat Shadow retirement.

“It’s not the most complex plane in the fleet, but we can complete some of the most complex tasks with it,” said Capt. Matthew Davis, a pilot at the 17th SOS. “It’s not very fancy or very modern, so it takes more out of you to fly but it gives you more too. You grow with this plane and learn a lot from it. The Combat Shadow has proven its worth even at the end of its long career. That says a lot.”

“It is a great privilege to retire my airplane that I have been working on for the last few years,” said Staff Sgt. Sean Taylor, 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “It will be sad and great to see her fly out of Kadena one last time to finally take a much needed break she has been working toward for the last 50 years.”

The last group of Combat Shadows in the Pacific will begin to leave for the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., in October and the final MC-130P from the Pacific is scheduled to retire in April. The final MC-130P Combat Shadow in the Air Force is scheduled to retire May 2015.