Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Washington Army National Guard's Sherpa takes final flight from base

By 2nd Lt. Justin Patterson, Washington National Guard

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - The C-23 Sherpa airplane has served an interesting role in the modern military.

As the only currently used fixed-wing aircraft in the Washington Army National Guard, it has served an integral role in Washington military operations both domestically and overseas.
Those days came to an end Aug. 13, when the last Sherpa in the Washington Army Guard took its final flight away from Gray Army Airfield on Joint Base Lewis McChord.

First Sgt. Mark Logan, Sgt. First Class Stanley Hudson and Staff Sgt. Brian Brazell, all of Headquarters Company, 1-168 General Support Aviation Battalion, have been flight engineers for this aircraft since it was brought to the Washington Guard in 1996.

"These aircraft were originally a [commercial] airline version called the Shorts 330, but they were converted for military use. The Army had 44 of them at one time but now that we're turning them all in, those numbers are dwindling" Logan said..

This Sherpa, a C-23B+ model, has been used for the movement of more than 50 million pounds of cargo, 30 thousand passengers in theater and has been all over the world with the Washington Army Guard.

Serving as a cargo aircraft stateside and overseas, a vessel for Special Operations missions and a platform for paradrops of both personnel and equipment, this Sherpa has served in many different facets in the Washington Army Guard.

In fact, Brazell called the aircraft"the yellow cab of Iraq" for their deployments.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Wayne Sparks, a pilot for the Sherpa, has been around for some of the more interesting uses of the aircraft, including piloting for military free-fall parachuting operations."I hate seeing the aircraft go," he said."I've enjoyed flying it. I have probably over half of my flight hours in this airframe."

Hudson, one of the original flight engineers on this aircraft in 1996, just wrapped up his 40th year in the Guard and will be retiring in the coming months. He said it was a good time to retire, going"out with a bang - with the plane."

The plane had also served as a"Sherpa Shuttle," moving Guard personnel to and from western and central Washington at scheduled times to shuttle troops for training while simultaneously maintaining flight hours on the aircraft.

After the aircraft fired up its twin engines and took off for the last time on Washington soil, the pilots of the C-23 took a circle around the airfield, coming down low over the airstrip and waved its wings' goodbye, a symbolic gesture of farewell. While the Sherpa is fading out of service with the Washington Guard, it will forever be a part of its legacy.