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NEWS | Aug. 22, 2012

Flying through history: Static planes at JB Charleston - Air Base get restored

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Two of the four static display aircraft at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base were recently given a routine "face lift," which consisted of being cleaned and painted for the upcoming decade. According to AFI 84-103, in an agreement with the Air Force Museum at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., the display planes are restored once every eight years.

The C-47 Skytrain and the C-124 Globemaster II at JB Charleston - Air Base are both sporting gleaming new finishes.

It was a team effort by the 628th Air Base Wing and 437th Airlift Wing to ensure the planes were repainted to perfection. The 628th ABW budget provided the funds for the restoration and the 437th AW organized the efforts.

"The display planes are meant to give Airmen a sense of their heritage," said Jason Axberg, 628th ABW historian. "The more they know about their history, the more pride they'll have it in."

According to Axberg, it is vital for Airmen to understand Air Force history.

"When Airmen see the display aircraft, they're looking at more than history. They're looking at their history," said Axberg."They're looking at their heritage and a timeless legacy built by the men and women before them. The Airmen of the past, that wore the same military uniform, laced the same boots and bravely sacrificed everything in the name of duty, honor and country."

Duty ... Honor ... Country.

These words are etched into a stone marker at the JB Charleston - Air Base Air Park, along the Rivers Avenue entrance of JB Charleston - Air Base. The park is home to a C-141B "Starlifter," a C-124C "Globemaster II" and a C-121 "Constellation."

A C-47, often called a "Gooney Bird," stands sentinel near the base flagpole across from Bldg. 16000. The aircraft was dedicated to Charleston Air Force Base in Aug. 1982.

The C-47's were first ordered prior to World War II, in 1940. However, by the end of the war, the Army Air Force had more than 9,000. Its multipurpose mission was to airlift cargo and troops in combat, as well as airdrop paratroopers into enemy territory.

Assigned to the 437th Troops Carrier Group, a direct lineage that runs to the 437th Operations Group, the group was essential during America's finest hour, Operation OVERLORD. On June 6, 1944, one of the group's four flying squadrons, the 85th Troop Carrier Squadron, was the first C-47 squadron launched into the D-Day combat environment. Throughout the duration of the war, the C-47, along with the 437th TCG, continued airlift, airdrop, resupply and air evacuation missions.

Joint Base Charleston's C-47 was restored and painted to replicate the "Chattanooga Choo Choo," an original C-47 assigned to the 83rd Troop Carrier Squadron, another 437th TCG flying squadron. However, the original plane Chattanooga Choo Choo was listed as missing in Burma on Oct. 22, 1944.

The C-121 first arrived at Charleston Air Force Base in Sept. 1955, with the 1608th Air Transportation Wing. While assigned to Charleston AFB, the C-121 was attached to many missions, such as providing airlift to Hungarian refugees to the United States, as well as providing airlift for U.S. troops to the Suez Canal, the Congo and Lebanon.

In 1982, 15 years after its active service retirement, a C-121 was acquired and restored from the "bone yard" at Davis-Montham Air Force Base, Ariz. by a team of active duty, reservists and retirees from various bases. The team restored the plane to a flyable condition 13 days. On June 10, 1985, the C-121 arrived at Charleston AFB for display, nearly 30 years after its initial arrival to the base.

Another aircraft on display at the Air Base is the C-124C. The predecessor to another display plane, the C-141 "Starlifter," the C-124 is often referred to as "Old Shaky" because of its constant in-flight vibrations. The C-124 was assigned to Charleston AFB from November 1957 until May 1969.

While assigned here, the C-124 flew relief missions into Chile, returned space capsules to Cape Canaveral and flew supplies into Antarctica. For more than 25 years, the C-124 served as the Air Force's premiere airlift/airdrop aircraft, and it called Charleston home.
After the C-124's impressive run in airlift history, came the next generation of airlift aircraft; the C-141B "Starlifter."

The C-141B on display at JB Charleston - Air Base, revolutionized aircraft with its in-flight refueling and its ability to airlift troops over long distances, supply troops with equipment by land or air, and transport wounded troops no matter how hostile the area, with advanced medical facilities. The C-141 aircraft flew more than 40 years and nine million flying hours, in large part due to its ability to transfer 23,592 gallons during refueling in about 26 minutes.

C-141s were assigned to Charleston AFB from August 14, 1965 until the last one departed on June 15, 2000. The fuselage on display today was retired in Sept. 1993, with a formal ceremony after its final flight, by Brig. Gen. Thomas Mikolajcik, who was the 437th Airlift Wing commander at the time. The C-141B on display was the first to reach more than 40,000 flying hours.

"People often ask me, 'why does the Air Force hold onto these old planes?'" said Axberg. "The answer is simple. Why do people hold onto family mementos, such as picture albums and keepsakes? It's because those relics are more than reminders, they are what bridges us to our past. Restoring those planes every eight years lets us look back on our impact toward mobility airlift, honor the heroes of yesterday and hold our heads high to be part of that culture."