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REUNITED: AFSOC commander visits museum, boards former helicopter

  • Published
  • By Tommie Horton
  • Robins Public Affairs

Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, was all smiles as he was recently reunited with a particularly distinctive MH-53 M “Pave Low IV” special operations helicopter at the Robins Air Force Base Museum of Aviation.

On Aug. 11, 2008, then Col. Webb flew tail number 70-1626 as his Pave Low fini flight from Hurlburt Field, Florida to Robins Air Force Base for retirement and preservation at the museum. Upon its delivery, he stated that he planned to come back in the future to visit the aircraft that he piloted while serving as the 20th Special Operations Squadron commander. 

“Sixteen twenty six was my command bird when I was squadron commander at the 20th,” said Webb. “I flew it during Bosnia operations including Secretary Ron Brown’s search and recovery.”

Brown was on an official trade mission when the Air Force CT-43 (a modified Boeing 737) he was traveling on with 34 other people crashed in Croatia. While attempting an instrument approach to Dubrovnik's Cilipi airport on April 3, 1996, the airplane crashed into a mountainside.

In 1996 Webb flew it to the U.S. Embassy in Liberia during a noncombatant evacuation operation in which 2,126 people from 76 countries were evacuated from political unrest taking place in Monrovia, Liberia.

His piloting performance with the aircraft during Operation Assured Response contributed to him receiving the 1996 Cheney Award.

The tail number which accumulated over 11,586 aircraft hours during its 37 years of service also flew into Iraq on the opening night of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During his recent visit to Robins, Webb was able to board the Pave Low despite the 88-foot-long helicopter being hoisted atop pylons 15-feet above the floor of the museum’s Century of Flight hangar.

The Pave Low remains very much in the same condition as it was on Aug. 21, 2008, when it was towed to the museum after arriving at Robins just 10 days prior. It had flown its last combat missions in Iraq earlier the same year.

Besides the removal of a few classified items prior to the aircraft’s arrival at the museum, everything else, including the paint and scratches, remain as it arrived.

“This is as close to the way it left operational service as we can possibly have it,” said Mike Rowland, Museum of Aviation curator. “From my perspective, that makes it perhaps the most significant aircraft at the museum.”

Brig. Gen. Vince Becklund, AFSOC acting director of operations, who also served as the 20th SOS commander just before the retirement of the MH-53 fleet, accompanied Webb in the cockpit of the aircraft that still smells of hydraulic fluid.

They sat inside for several minutes talking, reminiscing and discussing the instruments and the way everything was configured. They were visibly delighted that 70-1626 was being so well preserved.

“We were very fortunate he was able to carve out time from his busy schedule to come and be reunited with his helicopter,” said Rowland.

 “We’re really excited to be able to preserve the helicopter here because it has a great history, and we’re preserving it as it retired,” he added. “It’s been 10 years now, and there are three other Pave Lows preserved in the southeast. They’ve suffered 10 years out in the elements, and we’re very lucky to be able to have ours indoors where it looks the same as when it retired.”