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.