IN THE MILITARY
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lt. Col. James Yuki makes his final approach to Honolulu Airport, marking the end of his 23-year career in the Air Force and Hawaii Air National Guard. Yuki and a contingent of 10 members of the 204th Airlift Squadron took the unit's last C-130 Hercules cargo plane on its last mission to Hilo, delivering communications equipment. The unit will be flying larger C-17 Globemaster cargo jets later this year.
Labors of Hercules draw to a close
From cold war spying to humanitarian tasks, Hickam's C-130s have performed heroically
It's been nearly three decades.
But last week three men who loved to fly and were part of a secret spy capsule recovery unit at Hickam Air Force Base were reunited for one final mission.
This time it was in an C-130 propeller-driven cargo plane almost identical to the one that brought them together at Hickam's 6594th Test Group. The unit's highly classified job then was to recover satellite film capsules in the Pacific.
But on Tuesday, Lt. Col. James "Jim" Yuki, Lt. Col. Gerald "Gerry" Mansell, and Lt. Col. Kevin Garcia were just part of the crew, which participated in the last mission of the sole surviving member of the Hawaii Air National Guard's fleet of five C-130H Hercules propeller-driven cargo planes.
For more than two decades the pot-bellied C-130 Hercules cargo plane has been the Hawaii National Guard's workhorse -- the main means of moving supplies, soldiers, airmen, and even prisoners between the islands.
On Feb. 8, their unit -- the 204th Airlift Squadron -- will join with active Air Force's 535th Airlift Squadron, commanded by Lt. Col. Chris Davis, and will be flying the Air Force's latest jet cargo plane, the C-17 Globemaster. The commander of the Hawaii Guard element will be Lt. Col. Scott Kemsey.
The conversion from a propellor aircraft to the latest jet transport will mean the loss of a way of life for the Hawaii Air Guard unit, some of whose members have spent almost all of their military careers as citizen airmen and women.
Lt. Col. Douglas "Neal" Ernst, who flew F-4 Phantom jets for 12 years with the Air Force before joining the 204th in 1995, said since the C-130s became part of the Hawaii Air Guard in 1984 their missions have taken them as far as India and Israel.
Hawaii Air National Guard C-130 crews have made airdrops over India, shuttled military crews involved in the search for missing in action servicemen in New Zealand and Cambodia, and have even transported to Oahu 30 to 40 people arrested on neighbor island drugs raids.
Yuki, Garcia and Mansell were members of the 6594th, which completed 40,000 aerial operations and snared nearly 200 film capsules ranging in cost from $7 million to $250 million each in missions that often were classified secret for many years.
But for Garcia, a 1975 Kamehameha School and 1971 University of Hawaii Air Force ROTC grad, Tuesday's last flight brought back more than just a lot memories.
As the Hawaii Air C-130, dubbed "Koae Kea," made its final approach to Hickam Air Force Base on Tuesday after a routine 50-minute cargo run to Hilo, Garcia said: "It's hard to believe that more than 26 years ago we started flying together.
"Now we are bringing everything to an end."
Both Garcia, 49, and Yuki, 46, are retiring from the Hawaii Air Guard this year. Yuki has been in the 204th since 1994 and Garcia since 1991. The unit was created in 1990.
Yuki, who flew for the Air Force from 1983-1994 and was a Gulfstream pilot for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the 1991 Gulf War, said that after 23 years he wants to leave "on a good note."
The former Big Island native, who now lives in Mililani and is an Aloha Airlines 737 pilot, said he "kind of fell into flying" as he was looking for ways to pay for his college tuition at the University of Hawaii and the Air Force ROTC program came to his rescue.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," said Yuki.
Tuesday's C-130 mission involved transporting supplies for the Hawaii Air National Guard's 291st Combat Communications Squadron.
Also making his last C-130 flight on Tuesday was Capt. Noa Allen, 31, a 1992 Kamehameha Schools graduate.
But Allen, a new father, will remain with the Hawaii Air Guard unit and will leave Feb. 11 for Altus Air Force Base, Okla., for four months of re-training to become a C-17 pilot.
Allen, who has been a member of the Hawaii Air Guard since 1997, acknowledges that the transition will mean a lot changes.
It's not only because size of the air crews will grow from three in the C-130s to five in the C-17s, but there will be changes in close family unity that the Hawaii Guard unit has fostered and developed over the years. Traditionally, National Guard units are more autonomous and have had more flexibility that their active duty counterparts.
"It's a sad day," said Allen as he helped pilot the aircraft from Hilo. "It's not that we are losing these C-130s, but the C-17s are a lot different."
Many of the Hawaii Air Guard pilots belong to a close aeronautical family. They are so close that they even recognize the voices of their fellow pilots. On Tuesday as the C-130 sat on a Honolulu Airport runway with Yuki and Mansell at the controls waiting to be cleared for takeoff, the two instantly recognized the voice of Phil Tokunaga on the radio as he moved his Aloha Airlines jet in front of theirs. Tokunaga, how retired, commanded the 204th from 1990-2000.
Mansell, who commanded the 204th for five years ending in 2005, pointed out in mainland states, the military is able to move heavy equipment from one unit to another by truck. But in Hawaii, the Air Guard's five C-130 Hercules had to lived up to their "work horses" nickname, hauling not only equipment but soldiers between islands.
The C-17 Globemaster's payload is four times that of the C-130 Hercs. Its four jet engines means that Globemaster cruises at 675 mph, compared with the C-130's 410 mph.
"Some say we should use a calendar instead of a speed indicator," said Mansell.
Although the C-130 Hercs are now part of Hawaii's aeronautical history, the one thing that the Hawaii Air Guard pilots will carry into the cockpits of the C-17 Globemasters will be their call sign, "Manu," which means bird in Hawaiian.
Lingle to join Kaneohe-Hickam flight
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Gov. Linda Lingle will be among the military and civilian dignitaries who will experience a 20-minute flight of Hickam Air Force Base's new C-17 Globemaster cargo jet on Feb. 8.
The 174-foot cargo jet will be turned over to Gen. Paul Hester, Pacific Air Forces commander, on Feb. 7 in a ceremony at the Boeing Co. plant in Long Beach, Calif., where the aircraft, nicknamed "Spirit of Hawaii Ke Aloha," was built. Hester will pilot the Globemaster to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.
On the following day, Lingle, along with Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, head of the Hawaii National Guard, will be among the first people from Hawaii to ride on the $236 million cargo jet. The air crew will include Brig Gen. Peter Pawling, commander of the Hawaii Air Guard's 154th Wing.
Originally, Col. William Changose, commander of the 15th Airlift Wing, was supposed to join Pawling in the C-17 cockpit. However, a Hickam spokesman on Friday said that Changose decided not to fly until after an investigation into a Dec. 22 mid-air mishap is completed.
Changose was piloting a C-17 while it was being refueled by a Hawaii Air National Guard KC-135 jet tanker. The tanker sustained "minor" structural damage to its tail and refueling boom, which can extend from 28 inches to 47 feet from the rear of the tanker. There was no damage to Changose's C-17.
The Feb. 8 flight will be from Kaneohe to Hickam, where the Globemaster -- the first of eight -- will be christened. The eight cargo jets will be part of a 190-member unit manned by active Air Force personnel from the 535th Airlift Squadron and the Hawaii Air Guard's 204th Airlift Squadron. It is the first active joint Air Force and Air National Guard unit outside of the mainland.
» Contractor: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.
» Length: 97 feet
» Height: 38 feet, 10 inches
>> Speed: 366 mph
» Ceiling: 23,000 feet with 42,000 pounds payload.
» Maximum payload: 42,000 pounds
» Range at maximum normal payload: 1,208 miles
» Maximum load: Six pallets or 74 litters or 92 combat troops or 64 paratroopers, or a combination of any of these up to the cargo compartment capacity or maximum allowable weight.
» Crew: Five (two pilots, navigator, flight engineer and loadmaster)
» Inventory: Active force, 186; Air National Guard, 222; Air Force Reserve, 106
Source: U.S. Air Force
C-130 HERCULES AT HICKAM
» 1984: First assigned to the Hawaii Air National Guard jet fighter squadron.
» 1990: The 204th Airlift Squadron formed with Col. Ed Miyahira as its first commander.
» 1994: 204th receives the first of its five C-130 Hercules.
» 2006: In February its last C-130 is sent to the Idaho Air National Guard and the unit receives its first C-17 Globemaster cargo jet.