Losses and Aviation Safety

The Pilot of This C-130 Landed Safely with his Flight Engineer Dead, with his Co-Pilot Wounded, with Just One Engine

This C-130 participated in one of the greatest feats of airmanship during the Vietnam War on Apr. 15, 1972.

Originally designed by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) as an assault transport able to operate from unpaved airstrips, the C-130 Hercules made its first flight in August 1954. Over the next half century, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) used various versions of this versatile aircraft for aeromedical evacuation, mid-air refueling of helicopters, mid-air space capsule recovery, search and rescue, reconnaissance, as a gunship, and for many other missions.

The C-130E SPARE 617 arrives at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force after its final flight on Aug. 18, 2011. Not only is this C-130E (S/N 62-1787) representative of all C-130 transport aircraft, it also performed courageous work during the Southeast Asia War. Two members of its crew – Capt. William Caldwell, pilot, and Tech. Sgt. Charlie Shaub, loadmaster – were awarded Air Force Crosses, the U.S. Air Force’s second highest award for valor, for their heroic actions during the siege of An Loc in 1972.

Introduced in August 1962, the C-130E conducted critical USAF military missions during the Southeast Asia War through Afghanistan and Iraq. It has also supported countless USAF humanitarian efforts around the globe and in all climates.

The C-130E (serial number 62-1787) on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force had a long career, including a mission in the Southeast Asia War that earned two Airmen the Air Force Cross. This aircraft was flown to the museum in August 2011.

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) John L. “Jack” Hudson, director of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, addresses the audience after the C-130E made its final flight on Aug. 18, 2011. Ceremony speakers included (from left to right) Col. Michael A. Minihan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing; Col. (Ret.) William Caldwell, who received the Air Force Cross while piloting the aircraft during the Southeast Asia War; Col. (Ret.) James Grant, vice president of Air Mobility and Special Operations Programs for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.; and Col. (Ret.) Pete Gavares, vice president of USAF Programs for Rolls-Royce North America, Inc. 

C-130E 62-1787 participated in one of the greatest feats of airmanship during the Vietnam War on Apr. 15, 1972.  Operating under the call sign Spare 617, the aircrew consisting of Capt. William Caldwell, pilot; Lt. John Hering, copilot; Lt. Richard A. Lenz, navigator; Tech. Sgt. Jon Sanders, flight engineer; and loadmasters Tech. Sgt. Charlie Shaub and Airman 1st Class Dave McAleece attempted to airdrop ammunition to surrounded South Vietnamese troops at An Loc.

While approaching the drop zone, Spare 617 received heavy enemy ground fire that killed Sanders and wounded Hering and Lenz, damaged two engines, ruptured a bleed air duct in the cargo compartment, and set the ammunition on fire. Shaub jettisoned the cargo pallets, which exploded in midair. Despite receiving severe burns from the hot air escaping the damaged air bleed duct, Shaub extinguished a fire in the cargo compartment. Meanwhile, Caldwell decided to head for Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which had the best medical facilities. Even though his engineer was dead and his co-pilot wounded, Caldwell closed the damaged bleed air duct, and he shut down the two damaged engines. 

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. AC-130U Spooky II 1st SOW, 4th SOS, 88-0163

As Caldwell prepared to land with just two engines, the landing gear would not come down, and the wounded and badly burned Shaub directed McAleece as he hand-cranked the landing gear down using the emergency extension system. Even though a third engine lost power, Caldwell managed to land Spare 617 safely. For their efforts, Caldwell and Shaub received the Air Force Cross, the U.S. Air Force’s second highest award for valor. Shaub also received the William H. Pitsenbarger award for heroism from the Air Force Sergeants Association.

Photo credit: Michelle Gigante and Jeff Fisher U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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