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Cal Guard celebrates milestone with 6-ship formation flight

By Senior Airman Michelle Ulber | 146 Airlift Wing | June 15, 2020

PORT HUENEME, Calif. – Amid the challenges serving in the Air National Guard during the COVID-19 pandemic, California Air National Guard maintainers from the 146th Maintenance Group (146 MXG) and aircrew from the 115th Airlift Squadron (115 AS) collaborated to launch six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for the first time in over 20 years.

With a large crowd of Airmen gathering to witness the historical May 26 event known as “the elephant walk,” the colossal aircraft began taxiing down the runway in tight formation. Among the spectators was Col. John Ramos, commander of the 146 MXG.

Two months earlier, Ramos began strategizing how he’d accomplish his vision of a six-ship formation.

“I summoned my maintenance group chiefs and officers to coordinate this lofty goal, and it was initially met with resistance for a good reason. Two of the aircraft we wanted to use were scheduled for heavy maintenance, and there was some real doubt they’d be ready in time. When we got additional forces to help bolster our maintainers, we continued to move forward as planned,” said Ramos.

As days passed, the 146 MXG would gain the momentum needed to perform the required maintenance on all six of the aircraft. Ramos said the squadron was starting to feel an extra boost of enthusiasm and a renewed sense of pride.

“There was a new buzz in the air, and our folks started pressing on cohesively and efficiently. It wasn’t long before we realized that our goal was starting to become more of a reality. It was truly amazing to witness our maintainers in action,” said Ramos.

With the scheduled aircraft maintenance coming along smoothly for the squadron, the outlook for a six-ship formation was good. For the first time since the wing received its first C-130J aircraft in May 2002, the squadron was expected to witness another six-ship formation.

But that outlook changed right before the scheduled launch, as the maintenance team discovered a major problem, according to Ramos.

“One night before the event, we had to ground one of the aircraft for safety, as a piece of the landing gear was found with a discrepancy during a preflight inspection. It seemed that what we had set out to accomplish was now becoming nearly impossible,” said Ramos.

With little time to spare, the 146 MXG rallied tirelessly that evening though the next morning to return the aircraft to service. The six-ship formation would go off without a hitch, thanks to the maintainer’s perseverance. Ramos said it a fantastic achievement to accomplish during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To observe all six aircraft parked on our ramp, watching them start engines, taxiing all in line, and watching them go airborne one by one was a sight to behold,” he said. “There were tears of joy flowing from the eyes of our experienced maintainers, having never witnessed such an amazing feat in their careers.”

Ramos said the event has boosted morale.

“It’s a significant step towards our continued quest to be the best C-130J unit in the U.S. Air Force and to preserve the 146th Airlift Wing’s multiple mission sets at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station for many more years to come,” said Ramos.