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Rescue wing retiring aging HC-130s

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Crews from the 920th Rescue Wing here, prepare to refuel an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from an HC-130P/N aircraft number 65-00976. On Sept. 9, 2015, aircraft #00976 headed to retirement at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, the aircraft retirement "bone yard." For nearly 50 years, this combat proven aircraft served the Air Force, providing more than 16,000 hours of superior air support for its Airmen in combat, special operations, humanitarian, aerial refueling, and search and rescue missions around the world. (Courtesy photo)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Crews from the 920th Rescue Wing here, prepare to refuel an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from an HC-130P/N aircraft number 65-00976. On Sept. 9, 2015, aircraft #00976 headed to retirement at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, the aircraft retirement "bone yard." For nearly 50 years, this combat proven aircraft served the Air Force, providing more than 16,000 hours of superior air support for its Airmen in combat, special operations, humanitarian, aerial refueling, and search and rescue missions around the world. (Courtesy photo)

It’s all in a day’s work as maintainers from the 920th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here replace an HC-130P/N King fixed wing aircraft engine to prepare it for its final flight Sept. 9, 2015. It and five more aircraft from Patrick AFB were flown into retirement at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, the aircraft retirement "bone yard," in Arizona. For nearly 50 years, this combat-proven aircraft served the Air Force, providing more than 16,000 hours of superior air support for its Airmen in combat, special operations, humanitarian, aerial refueling, and search and rescue missions around the world. (Courtesy photo)

It’s all in a day’s work as maintainers from the 920th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here replace an HC-130P/N King fixed wing aircraft engine to prepare it for its final flight Sept. 9, 2015. It and five more aircraft from Patrick AFB were flown into retirement at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, the aircraft retirement "bone yard," in Arizona. For nearly 50 years, this combat-proven aircraft served the Air Force, providing more than 16,000 hours of superior air support for its Airmen in combat, special operations, humanitarian, aerial refueling, and search and rescue missions around the world. (Courtesy photo)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- With no fanfare other than the fading rumble of its four turbo-prop engines, one of Patrick's well-worn HC-130P/N King aircraft - number 65-00976 - disappeared into the afternoon sky heading into retirement at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, the aircraft retirement "bone yard," in Arizona.

Throughout the fall of 2015, Rescue Wing Airmen piloted its grand fleet of six fixed-wing aircraft, familiar to many on Florida's Space Coast, one-by-one, to their final resting place in the desert.

For nearly 50 years, this ubiquitous combat proven aircraft served the Air Force, providing superior air support for its Airmen in many types of missions around the world.

"My aircraft maintainers continue to prove that they are truly the best of the best," said Maj. Stephen Young, 920th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander here. "They work tirelessly ensuring no steps are missed and all blocks on the aircraft forms are signed."

The 920th AMXS maintainers worked for weeks to prepare each aircraft for their final flights to the boneyard, however, tail number 076 did not leave without a fight.

"We marshalled 076 out to the taxiway and it rolled out to the runway but immediately returned and shut down," said Staff Sgt. Jorge Caraballo, crew chief. "We found out the number two engine generator shelled out."

It took about three hours to replace the generator before launching again.

Young said when an aircraft maintainer retires or moves on to a new assignment it's like losing a family member. Similarly, these aircraft are part of that same family.

"It is sad when a member of the unit either retires or moves to another assignment...it is like losing a family member," said Young. "That is how it is when losing an aircraft to the boneyard for retirement," said the commander.

"These aircraft have been here since I've been here," said Master Sgt. Timothy Baxley, 920 AMXS specialist flight chief, here. "Just seeing that same aircraft that you share history with going to the boneyard is tough," said Baxley, a 22-year reservist from Melbourne, Florida.

"My dad was a 27-year reservist here and worked as a crew chief on some of these same aircraft so there's a lot of sentimental value," said Baxley. "The number of deployments and the camaraderie built with people while working on the airplanes - that's the joy of it."

"We got our money's worth out of them," said Master Sgt. Michael Silnutzer, reflecting on the half-century old aircraft since they retired to the boneyard.

And the replacement aircraft are in a lot better shape, said Caraballo.

"We are excited about receiving our newer (slightly used) aircraft and making them a part of the family," said Young. "These maintainers will continue to work just as hard, if not harder to ensure that they live up to the motto of "these things we do, that others may live." Young said, "It is what they believe and live for every day."

(Maj. Cathleen Snow, 920th RQW Public Affairs officer, contributed to the story.)