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Did You Know?

Did You Know? The last C-130A to leave Vietnam is on display at the Little Rock Air Force Base? The C-130A Hercules, tail # 56-0518, was the 126th built by Lockheed Aircraft corp. of Marietta, Georgia. It was accepted into the Air Force inventory on August 23, 1957, assigned to the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Sewart AFB, Tennessee, from 1964 to 1972. On November 2, 1972, it was given to the South Vietnamese Air Force as part of the Military Assistance Program. A few years later, the aircraft would be involved in an historic flight.

On April 29, 1975, this “Herk” was the last out of Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. With over 100 aircraft destroyed on the flight line at Tan Son Nhut Air Base (some still burning), it was the last flyable C-130 remaining. In a state of panic, hundreds rushed to get aboard, as the aircraft represented the final ticket to freedom.

People crowded into the Herk. Eventually, the loadmaster informed the pilot, Major Phuong, a South Vietnamese instructor pilot, that he could not get the rear ramp closed due to the number of people standing on it. In a moment of inspiration, Major Phuong slowly taxied forward, then hit the brakes. The loadmaster called forward again stating he had successfully got the doors closed.

In all, 452 people were on board, including a staggering 32 in the cockpit alone. Using a conservative estimate of 100 pounds per person, it translated into an overload of at least 10,000 pounds. Consequently, the Herk used every bit of the runway and overrun before it was able to get airborne.

The target was Thailand, which should have been 1:20 in flight time, but after an hour and a half, the aircraft was over the Gulf of Slam, and they were clearly lost. Finally, a map was located, they identified some terrain features, and they were able to navigate. They landed at Utapao, Thailand, after a three and a half hour flight.

Ground personnel were shocked at what "fell out" as they opened the doors. It was clear that a longer flight would almost certainly have resulted in a loss of life. In the end, however, all 452 people made it to freedom aboard this historic C-130.

After landing, the aircraft was reclaimed by the USAF and was assigned to two different Air National Guard units for the next 14 years. On June 28, 1989, it made its final flight to Little Rock Air Force Base, current home of the 314th Airlift Wing, and was placed on static display.

[Source: A Short History Of C-130a, Tail # 56-0518