The Last MC-130H Combat Talon II Special Operations Aircraft Has Been Retired

MC-130H retired
The last MC-130H Combat Talon II, Tail Number 89-0280, taxis after landing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., April 2, 2023. The aircraft departed Hurlburt Field for the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, also known as the “Boneyard,” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Natalie Fiorilli)

The final MC-130H flew for the last time earlier this month, retiring at the 309th AMARG in the Arizona desert.

Earlier this month, on April 2, 2023, the final MC-130H Combat Talon ll made its last flight, arriving at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, to retire at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the boneyard. This aircraft was the last of the final six MC-130Hs still in service with the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Members of the Talon community gathered at Hurlburt Field, Florida, to see the MC-130H, tail number 89-0280 belonging to the 1st Special Operations Wing, take off for the last time. As members of the 15th Special Operations Squadron prepared for takeoff, families, friends and former MC-130H crews joined them to say goodbye to the aircraft after a 30-year career.

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,” Staff Sgt. Kevin 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.”

The aircraft was flown by a Total Force crew and included Lt Gen Tony Bauernfeind, AFSOC commander, to pay homage to the heroic legacy and service the Talon II has provided for AFSOC and the joint force over the past 30 years. A former commander of the 15th SOS and longtime MC-130H pilot, Lt Gen Bauernfeind made it a priority to take part in the final flight, accompanied by 15th SOS Commander Lt Col Adam Schmidt.

“Today marks the end of a legacy for one of the finest airplanes ever flown in AFSOC,” said the AFSOC commander. “The MC-130H Combat Talon II, or as the crews that’ve flown it call it: “The Chariot of Armageddon,” held a critical mission of special operations forces mobility in infiltrating and exfiltrating into many of the hardest locations in the world while upholding the Talon Standard of absolute precision. I’m very proud of the entire Talon community; the crews, maintainers, and operations support personnel.”

“I’ve spent a majority of my career being around this amazing airplane, its maintainers and operational support staff,” continued Lt Gen 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.”

First arrived at Hurlburt Field in June 1992, the MC-130H Combat Talon II is a derivative of the C-130H Hercules modified to support special operations and played a vital role in AFSOC operations across the globe. Missions performed with the MC-130H involved infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces and equipment in hostile and denied territories, in addition to air refueling operations of rotary wing assets and even a “bomber role” with the GBU-43 MOAB. Additionally, it also provided SOF commanders with an all-weather, low-level penetration option utilizing its terrain following capabilities.

“The Talon II was a navigator’s dream due to the planning required and systems expertise necessary to fly it,” said Col. Richard Greszler, Jr., AFSOC Operations Center commander and prior MC-130H navigator. “The ability to fly in mountainous terrain in [instrument meteorological conditions] required extremely detailed mission planning, so every flight required the whole crew to understand the limitations of the aircraft and the crew, and to push right up to the edge in order to be successful. The ability to project power and penetrate denied or sensitive areas to further our Nation’s interest was the hallmark of the Talon II.”

The last MC-130H Combat Talon II, Tail Number 89-0280, taxis after landing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., April 2, 2023. The aircraft departed Hurlburt Field for the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, also known as the “Boneyard,” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Natalie Fiorilli)

Over the last 30 years, the Combat Talon ll supported combat and humanitarian operations including Operation Allied Force, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, to name a few. After the final landing, the MC-130H fleet has accumulated approximately 264,442 total flight hours and 106,850 sorties. The last MC-130H in the 1st SOW’s inventory will be retired later this summer in Hurlburt Field’s airpark, cementing the retirement of the Talon II fleet in AFSOC.

The MC-130H is being replaced by the MC-130J Commando II, which has been operational since 2011. The MC-130J already replaced all the MC-130P Combat Shadows, with 56 currently in service out of a total order of 64 aircraft, the last of which is expected to be delivered in 2025. The Commando II took over the missions assigned to the Combat Talon II and is also undergoing upgrades to be better equipped for future challenges.

To replace the terrain following capability of the MC-130H’s highly specialized AN/APQ-170 radar, the AFSOC is installing the AN/APQ-187 Silent Knight radar on the MC-130J. In fact, initially the Commando II was supposed to use a variant of the standard C-130’s AN/APN-241 radar, but it was later decided to integrate the Silent Knight radar as it is becoming the common terrain-following/terrain avoidance radar across the U.S. special operations aviation community. The radar is already installed on the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s MH-60Ms and MH-47Gs and is being integrated also on the AFSOC CV-22Bs.

The MC-130Js are also being upgraded with new communications and data-sharing networking capabilities, a new self-protection suite and they might even get a new amphibious kit for water operations, although it will be a long-term development program, which could come in useful for operations in the Pacific Ocean area.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.