Leader Blues

Monday, April 05, 2010

TOP STORY >> C-130 demonstration team reunites

Members of the Four Horsemen C-130 aerial demonstration team (from left) co-pilot John Dale, pilot James Akin, pilot William Hatfield and co-pilot Billie Mills. The group visited Jacksonville Museum of Military Museum.

By JEFFREY SMITH

Leader staff writer

Thousands have seen the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds perform during the Little Rock Air Force Base air shows, but 50 years ago the Four Horsemen team was demonstrating tight aerial formation maneuvers with C-130s.

Members of the Four Horsemen aerial team last week visited the Jacksonville Museum of Military History and the Air Force Base. They were here during a reunion of the “Flying Jennies” 815th Airlift Squadron reunion, which was stationed at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, during the Vietnam War.

The Four Horsemen flew together from 1957 to 1960.

At the Jacksonville museum were Lt. Col. William Hatfield of Booneville, Miss., and Lt. Col. James Akin of Aurora, Colo., both retired pilots, and Col. John Dale of Big Lake, Alaska, and Col. Billie Mills of Olive Branch, Miss., both retired co-pilots. Pilots Hubert Chaney and David Moore have passed away.

The Four Horsemen flew C-130A models with three-bladed props. They would perform their air shows at bases while other planes were taken off the line.

“We were the only four-engine C-130 prop-jet demonstration team,” Hatfield said.

John Dale said, “It was good for morale. The maintenance crew would fight each other to be on the planes.”

Hatfield said they started flying together at Ardmore Air Force Base, Okla., and ended at Sewart Air Force Base, Tenn. They performed in many shows, including Europe and Asia.

Lockheed Martin, the planes’ manufacturer, made a movie about the Four Horsemen in the 1950s.

“We had a regular 20-minute routine. Every time we got together we did a show. We organized the team on our own and developed routines and maneuvers,” Hatfield said.

Akin said the team used the C-130 A-models because the planes were more responsive. The B-model had bigger propellers. He said the B-model was a good airplane, just not for formation work.

Dale said the A-models had a higher acceleration rate. He said on one cold day with a light plane in Oklahoma, he reached 100 knots in eight seconds.

When flying in formations, Akin said, “You never took your eyes off the lead.”

Dale said the closer the demonstration team got the nose into the slot of the tail, the easier it was to fly. They could feel the bubble —the interruption of smooth air over an aircraft’s wings.

The nose would be 10 feet behind the tail of the other plane.

“You could count the rivets,” Dale recalled.

He continued saying there were limits on how fast you could move the plane, because the C-130s were so heavy.

“We’d be sweating like Trojans in there,” Dale said.