Updated: February 20, 2021 07:02 PM
Created: February 20, 2021 12:03 PM
On Sunday, one of the Minnesota Air National Guard's most legendary aircraft celebrates 50 years.
The C-130A first went wheels-up on Feb. 21, 1971.
While the plane has kept up with technology over the last half-century, many of the basic functions remain the same. Minnesota National Guard's 133rd Airlift Wing has received three models of the aircraft, which is known for its tactical abilities such as landing in rough dirt strips and airdropping equipment to troops in hostile areas.
Retired Brig. Gen. John Silliman Jr. was one of the first Minnesotans to pilot the original C-130A.
"I sort of had flying in my blood," Silliman said.
He joined the Air National Guard in 1966. At the time, he didn't know he'd spend decades piloting one of the most well respected aircraft ever to fly.
"It was a great airplane to fly. I loved it. It got me all around the world and they paid me to do it," Silliman said.
The C-130 brought him to places like Europe, Asia and South America. He helped with airdrop missions and hurricane relief. Silliman said to this day there is nothing quite like flying that plane.
"They haven't been able to come up with anything better. It's still the aircraft of choice for cargo missions," he said.
Capt. Ryan Beardmore would agree. He's been flying the C-130 for six years and has deployed twice.
"It's the Jeep of the Air Force. It can do absolutely anything and everything you ask it to," Beardmore said.
He's part of a younger generation of pilots but is still flying what is essentially the same plane.
"The first time you hop into the airplane, you get in and you're like, 'Wow this is real. I'm not sitting in a simulator anymore,'" he said, "For the most part, it's the same core airplane, but then we go a step further and add some of the new technology into it."
Both men described surreal experiences from the cockpit.
"From taking 42,000 pounds and airdropping it out of the back of the aircraft to completely re-rigging the back of the aircraft and carrying 100 soldiers, people, airmen," Beardmore said.
A half-century after it was first designed, the plane is still as useful today as it was its early days.
"It's a great airplane. Like I said, it was designed in the early '50s and its still being manufactured," Silliman said.
"It never gets old. Every day is a joy," Beardmore added.
The C-130 anniversary is a part of a yearlong celebration. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS is proud to partner with the Minnesota Air National Guard for the 100th Anniversary that will take place this summer at the Mall of America.
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