Friday 24 January marked the end of another era at RAF Mildenhall, England, as the 67th Special Operations Squadron’s sole remaining Lockheed Martin MC-130P Combat Shadow flew its final training mission from the UK. Kieran Lear reports on the retirement of a real American workhorse.
The 67th Special Operations Squadron operated the MC-130P Combat Shadow, and now operates its successor, the MC-130J, to provide reliable, precise, flexible and responsive air mobility. Usually conducting operations under the cover of darkness, MC-130Ps had the capability to penetrate potentially hazardous areas to conduct transport operations or support troops on the ground via airdrop or by aerial refuelling of helicopters. MC-130Ps also had the task of supporting information operations, humanitarian relief, medical evacuations and non-combatant evacuations.
The unit was formed as the 67th Air Rescue Squadron on 17 October, 1952. It was redesignated 67th Air Recovery Squadron on 1 August, 1965, and then as the 67th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron on 8 January, 1966. The unit transferred through a series of bases, including Moron Air Base in Spain, and latterly RAF Woodbridge and RAF Alconbury in the UK. Initially, the 67th operated the HC-130 before transitioning to the MC-130P and most recently the MC-130J.
The unit was subsequently split in 1988, forming the 21st SOS (more recently operating the MH-53 and, as of 2013, the CV-22) and 67th SOS. The 67th has since moved once again and is now based at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, where the MC-130Ps have since been replaced by the aforementioned and more advanced MC-130J variant.
Over the years, the 67th SOS has gained an enviable reputation for its role, largely due to the work of the venerable MC-130P, and indeed, in November 2013, the Squadron was recognised as “the best air refueling crew and best airlift crew in the U.S. Air Force”. The Squadron has also been awarded the Hoyt award, an annual award presented to the organisation which executed the Air Force’s most meritorious air refuelling mission of the year, five times, in 2000, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Acknowledging its illustrious service life, this morning Lockheed Martin MC-130P Combat Shadow 66-0215 departed RAF Mildenhall for a series of flypasts over the Shadow’s many haunts over the years. The sortie planned for fly-overs at Sculthorpe, Prestwick, Woodbridge and Alconbury. Not forgetting the infamous exploits of the Squadron during the Hunstanton floods of 1953, the aircraft also made a poignant flypast over the town in remembrance of the sterling rescue effort undertaken by the Squadron, which saw 2nd Class Airman Reis Leeming awarded the George Medal for his part in rescuing 27 locals following the storm surge.
The last Combat Shadow returned to Mildenhall this afternoon, thus concluding its final operational sortie over UK airspace ahead of its departure to the USA next month – an event we will be bringing you more coverage of in due course.