Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 29, 2009

pit-stops in Vicksburg|Air Force cargo plane the largest to land at airport in two decades

The largest airplane to land at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport in more than two decades — which came in with a big, thirsty fuel tank — will take off today after a four-day stay in the city.

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Seven crew members and 40 Army paratroopers plan to leave Vicksburg at 8 a.m. today, but will allow the public to see the aircraft for about an hour before departure.

Seven Air National Guard crew members with the C-130H brought 40 Army paratroopers to Vicksburg for a training mission, said North Carolina Air National Guard Master Sgt. Robert Bartlett.

“We’re like a shuttle service for military forces,” he said. “We go pretty much anywhere and everywhere, and we haul just about anything. This aircraft was in Afghanistan last year, but we’ve never been here before. We’re going to try to make it an annual event.”

Airport Operations Manager Frank May, who has worked at the airport in a variety of capacities since 1977, said it is only the third C-130 to land in Vicksburg since the early 1980s. Bartlett said the paratroopers made a drop just south of Vicksburg on Thursday after arriving in the city around 2:30 p.m., and also did some ground training in the city.

The aircraft crew and paratroopers made some time for a little sightseeing, too — both planned visits to the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The C-130H — a four-engine turboprop aircraft so large it can transport helicopters and tanks as cargo — provided a financial boost to the airport during a time when reduced activity on the runway has been noticeable, said May. The aircraft filled up its tank with jet fuel after arriving — it took nearly 2,300 gallons. 

“That’s about a month’s worth of combined sales (of aviation and jet gasoline) in one fueling,” May said.

Airport Manager Curt Follmer said he was contacted about a month ago about the arrival of the C-130H. Weighing approximately 83,000 pound unloaded, the aircraft is about the largest the Vicksburg runway can handle, he said.

“It’s a huge plane, but it can land safely in a fairly short distance,” Follmer said. “It’s designed to be able to land in hastily constructed military airfields.”

Measuring nearly 40 feet tall, 100 feet long and with a wingspan of about 130 feet, the plane has garnered some attention at the small airport on U.S. 61 South.

“We’ve had quite a few people pull up into the parking lot to take a look,” said May.

In continuous production since the 1950s, the C-130 series is widely considered one of the most capable and reliable military aircraft of all time. More than 40 varying models and 1,200 total C-130 aircraft have been built, and they are currently flown by more than 60 nations worldwide. They are routinely used to carry troops, vehicles and supplies into battle zones and drop paratroopers and supplies. They also serve in refueling other aircraft, provide emergency evacuation and assist in humanitarian relief efforts, among many other roles.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com.