History in Your Own Backyard: The Last C-130 to Leave Saigon

3:44 PM

By David Lynn,
Guest Blogger
I have always really enjoyed history. There is great value in learning about the things that happened in the past that have ultimately led us to today. Whether it is the history of our nation, or even just my family history, it always gives me pause when I learn something new, or even better, when I get to witness it myself.
I have been able to visit some of the most historic sites in the whole world in my life. These sites include Fort Sumter, SC where the first shots of the Civil War took place, Hiroshima, Japan where the first atomic bomb was dropped, and Tinian Island in the Northern Marianas Islands where the Enola Gay took off from to drop that bomb. I also visited Iwo Jima, where one of the most iconic battles of any war was fought, and where the Enola Gay landed after dropping the bomb.

While it may seem like all I do is visit sites related to wars, I’ve also visited Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas where the “Little Rock Nine” first integrated a high school. I have been to Dallas, TX where JFK was shot, as well as learned to shoot on Bravo Range at Camp Pendleton, CA where Lee Harvey Oswald also learned to shoot.
While all of these places hold great historical significance to our country, and in some cases the world. There are countless other stories that bear great historical significance that many of us know nothing about, and many of them are right in our own backyard.
I was stationed at Little Rock AFB, AR for about three years. During that time I was trained as a navigator on the C-130H Hercules – an airplane that has taken everything that sixty-plus years of service could throw at it. Any self-respecting avgeek that has driven through the front gate has seen the old C-130A that is on static display there, but not many people know about its history, and it has quite a history.
Tail number 60518 was the 126th C-130A that was built by Lockheed at its factory in Marietta, GA in August of 1957. To date there have been more than 2,500 C-130s built to give you some perspective of just how long ago that was. For the next 15 years, it would serve with various units in Tennessee, New York, and ultimately Japan where this bird became historic.
One day before the fall of Saigon, Vietnam, on 29 April 1975, this plane became a lifeboat for a lot of Vietnamese people. Under the Military Assistance Program, it had been given to the South Vietnamese Air Force who piloted it through the end of the war.
On this particular day there were dozens of burning and destroyed aircraft on the airfield, and this was the last cargo plane still capable of flying. Those people that were there trying to evacuate flocked to the plane as a last ditch effort to leave the airport that would fall the following day.
One of those people was Tim Nguyen, who is now an engineer working on the C-130 because of the love he has for it after saving his life. (Read more of his story here. Nguyen and others have recounted the story of that fateful flight describing just how many people were on board.
As they were getting ready to depart, the loadmaster was unable to get the ramp and door closed for their departure because there were so many people standing on it. The pilot got creative and decided to taxi forward and then slam on the brakes, which would push the people forward and hopefully relieve enough pressure for the ramp and door to lock so they could take off. Fortunately for all on board, it worked and the plane was able to take off using every last inch of the runway.
On final count, 452 people were carried on that last fateful flight out of Saigon, including 32 people on the flight deck alone. I realize that Vietnamese people are a lot smaller than us fat Americans, but I know I feel crowded with any more than about 6-7 on the flight deck. For reference, our passenger limit now is 92 people, and I can tell you that would feel pretty cramped back there.
Estimates have been made that the plane was conservatively about 10,000 pounds overweight. Add to that the hot temperatures that are common there, and it is no small feat that the plane took off at all. What was supposed to be a 1.5 hour flight turned into 3.5 hours after the crew was momentarily lost, but all passengers arrived safely.

Upon arrival in Utapao, Thailand, the plane was returned to the U.S. Air Force, who continued to fly it with the National Guard in Oklahoma and Tennessee until its final flight to Little Rock on 28 June 1989.
The unique story of this plane is incredibly inspiring when you consider the magnitude of the impact it had on so many lives. There are equally inspiring stories all over this country, and all over the world for that matter, if we will only go outside and look for them.
I drove by that plane everyday on my way to work for more than a year and half before I finally stopped to learn about it. Once I did I was impressed by the amazing story it had, and it made me curious as to what other history I had been missing out on experiencing, that was right in my own backyard.

David Lynn is a lifelong lover of airplanes, something he inherited from his father. He is currently a C-130 Navigator in the US Air Force with approximately 1,100 hours on the mighty Herc. He resides at Yokota AB, Japan, but will be moving to the National Guard in Reno, NV. He can be found on Twitter  as @davidvlynn or through his personal blog, AviationGuy.com 

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