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'Iron Horse' sets off for final flight

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNS) -- The 23rd Wing sent the Air Force's oldest C-130 to the "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, for its retirement March 3.

Aircraft 62-1863, an HC-130P Combat King nicknamed "Iron Horse," experienced 52 years of service and three different modifications during its tenure.

"The history is rich with this aircraft," said Tim Martin, the Air Force Engineering Technical Services adviser for C-130 maintenance personnel. "This is because it is a one of a kind aircraft and there never will be another like it."

Iron Horse began its Air Force career as a C-130E Hercules assigned to the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing during the Vietnam War and ended with a final deployment in 2009 with the 71st Rescue Squadron.

"What makes this aircraft special is that it has flown 27,533 flying hours, the second most of any C-130 aircraft in the Air Force," Martin said.

Iron Horse first got its nickname when it was stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in 1994 as an EC-130C Airborne Command and Control Center.

After nine years at its future retirement home in Arizona, the historic aircraft was selected by Air Combat Command for its final modification into the HC-130P Combat King.

"(This) was the only aircraft to be converted with Lockheed Martin's tanker conversion program in Sept. 2003," Martin said. "After its conversion, Air Force Special Operations Command made the decision to cancel the program and buy new HC-130J aircraft."

Moody and its 71st RQS welcomed Iron Horse into its fleet in 2007, and it has served here until the HC-130J Combat King II was introduced.

The 23rd Wing's transition to the newer J Model began in 2011, so the P Models like Iron Horse have been slowly phased out over the past four years.

"I grew up on these planes from being stationed here in May 2001," said Tech. Sgt. David Poe, 723rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron section chief. "I thought I would be retiring with these (P Models), but they're still in service."

Once Iron Horse reaches the boneyard, the aircrew assigned to it will attend a retirement ceremony to acknowledge its service.

"The retirement is a remembrance of a whole generation of maintainers," Poe said. "It's also a realization that a whole generation of C-130s is disappearing slowly."

Moody continues to retire older P Models like Iron Horse, and according to Martin, AF 65-00982 is next P Model on the list for Davis-Monthan AFB's boneyard for June.