Aviation History

USAF retires its last MC-130H Combat Talon II, #89-0280, after delivering the aircraft to the “Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan AFB

“There’s special things you do whenever a plane leaves. With the MC-130H, I used to give it a big hug on the nose and tell it goodbye and to keep my friends safe. I did that every single time,” Kevin Rutkowski Combat Talon II crew chief.

On Sunday, Apr. 2, 2023 members of the Talon community gathered at Hurlburt Field, to see final MC-130H, Tail Number 89-0280, take off for the last time.

As told by Senior Airman Natalie Fiorilli , 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs, in the article A ‘Talon Standard’ sendoff: 15th SOS crews deliver final MC-130H to boneyard, as members of the 15th Special Operations Squadron prepared for takeoff, families, friends and former MC-130H crew joined them to say goodbye to the aircraft.

Before it taxied away, ground crews also made sure to take part in what has become a preflight ritual for the Combat Talon II – rubbing the aircraft’s large, rounded nose.

“There’s special things you do whenever a plane leaves,” Rutkowski said. “With the MC-130H, I used to give it a big hug on the nose and tell it goodbye and to keep my friends safe. I did that every single time.”

A former crew chief with the 15th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Hurlburt Field, Staff Sgt. Kevin Rutkowski said he will never forget the camaraderie of being part of the Talon community.

Rutkowski, now a quality assurance evaluator assigned to the 1st Special Operations Maintenance Group, worked on the MC-130H for six years. During that time, he deployed three times and supported a variety of missions for the 15th SOS.

On Sunday, Apr. 2, 2023 members of the Talon community gathered at Hurlburt Field, to see MC-130H, Tail Number 89-0280, take off for the last time. As members of the 15th Special Operations Squadron prepared for takeoff, families, friends and former MC-130H crew joined them to say goodbye to the aircraft.

“There was just so much pride behind the Talons,” Rutkowski noted. “Probably a part of that pride was knowing that at a moment’s notice, we had to be ready.”

Missions performed with the MC-130H involved infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces and equipment, in addition to air refueling operations, among others.

Combat Talon IIs first arrived at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Jun. 29, 1992, and after acceptance testing, began official flying operations Oct. 17, 1992. Since then, the MC-130H has played a vital role in AFSOC operations. Some of the aircraft’s highlights include the evacuations of non-combatant Americans and other civilians from conflicts in Liberia in 1996. Also, in 1998, a Combat Talon II aircrew was awarded the Mackay Trophy for their involvement in the evacuation of civilians from the Republic of the Congo in 1997, and they participated in combat operations in the Balkans during Operation Allied Force.

In 2001, MC-130Hs were employed to seize an airfield in southern Afghanistan, delivering US Army Rangers to commence ground operations in Operation Enduring Freedom. Later in 2003, the MC-130H was the first US aircraft to land at Baghdad International Airport to initiate missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since October 2001, this aircraft has been used extensively in combat and humanitarian operations worldwide including operations Enduring Freedom and Inherent Resolve, Resolute Support, Tomodachi in Japan, Unified Response in Haiti, and Sahayogi Haat in Nepal.

The April 2 flight saw the MC-130H depart Hurlburt Field for the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, also known as the “Boneyard,” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

On board the aircraft to help deliver it to its final destination was Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. A former commander of the 15th SOS and MC-130H pilot, Bauernfeind made it a priority to take part in the final flight.

Signatures of the aircrew that delivered the last MC-130H Combat Talon II, Tail Number 89-0280, are displayed on the aircraft’s nose at the “Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Apr. 3, 2023. With the retirement of the MC-130H complete, the MC-130J Commando II has officially replaced the Combat Talon II.

“I’ve spent a majority of my career being around this amazing airplane, its maintainers and operational support staff,” said Bauernfeind. “I felt that it should be sent off right, knowing full well that we’re capturing its heritage. And not only that, but that there will be other aircraft that follow behind it, that maintain that same ‘Talon Standard’ and keep that heritage going forward.”

Following the six-hour flight to Davis-Monthan, the aircrew, including Bauernfeind and 15th SOS Commander Lt. Col. Adam Schmidt, took more photos with the aircraft and signed their names on the aircraft’s nose.

On Apr. 3, personnel assigned to the 309th AMARG helped to deliver the MC-130H to join 17 other Combat Talon II aircraft at the boneyard.

From there, the 309th AMARG will perform regular anti-corrosion and other maintenance to preserve the MC-130H, as sometimes, aircraft can be returned to service based on needs of the Air Force.

Now, with the retirement of the MC-130H complete, the MC-130J Commando II has officially replaced the Combat Talon II.

However, for those close to the Talon mission, the aircraft will never truly be replaced.

Photo credit: Senior Airman Natalie Fiorilli / U.S. Air Force

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
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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  • Been to Hurburt Field, it's in FLORIDA! No hills or mountains in the Panhandle. Photo caption probably should reflect landing at Davis Monthan, been there too.

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