Aviation History

Venerable MC-130P Combat Shadow that Took Part in Son Tay Raid Going to Castle Air Museum

The MC-130P #66-0212 that took part in the special forces raid on Son Tay to rescue prisoners of war being held captive in North Vietnam will be retired to become a permanent display at Castle air museum.

The MC-130P #66-0212 that took part in the special forces raid on Son Tay to rescue prisoners of war being held captive in North Vietnam will be retired to become a permanent display at Castle air museum in Atwater on Oct. 26, 2019.

The aircraft, call sign Lime 02, was a HC-130P Combat King at the time of the operation. It was then upgraded to become a MC-130P.

According to GVWire, the Combat Shadow aircraft is being retired after a 50-year career with the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. The plane is currently assigned to the Air Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Federal Airfield.

Operation Kingpin (as the POW rescue mission was code-named) was launched from Thailand and South Vietnam on the night of Nov. 20, 1070.  The MC-130 was one of two guide planes that led a force of Sikorsky Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopters, A-1 Skyraider attack planes, and 56 ground assault troops into hostile North Vietnam territory.

The force’s target was the Son Tay prison camp where up to 70 captured Americans were believed to be held. The airspace around the compound, just 23 miles from Hanoi, was considered to be among the most heavily defended in the world at the time.

Aircraft 0212 was designed for clandestine missions and was specially equipped for low-level, night-time navigation.

The rescuers were successful in reaching the compound undetected and the resulting assault on Son Tay was executed largely as planned, but, once the raiders were on the ground, they discovered all of the POWs were gone.

Even so, Operation Kingpin was considered a “tactical” success. Word of the raid soon spread to the nearly 500 POWs held across North Vietnam, which boosted their morale. The late Sen. John McCain, a POW at the time, is reported to have described his “elation” at hearing of the attempted rescue.

The mission resulted in no American loss of life and just two minor injuries to mission personnel, despite active engagement with enemy forces.

After its active duty service, the MC-130 joined the Air Guard wing where it performed rescue and recovery missions.

The Combat Shadow will now join more than 70 vintage military aircraft on display at Castle Air Museum.

The 25-acre museum is located on the site of the former Castle Air Force Base and opened to the public in 1981.

The MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft flew clandestine or low visibility, single or multi-ship low-level missions intruding politically sensitive or hostile territory to provide air refueling for special operations helicopters. The MC-130P primarily flew missions at night to reduce probability of visual acquisition and intercept by airborne threats.

Secondary mission capabilities included airdrop of leaflets, small special operations teams, bundles and combat rubber raiding craft, as well as night vision goggle operations, takeoff and landing procedures and in-flight refueling as a receiver.

U.S. California Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kim E. Ramirez/Released

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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