On May 6, 2006, the last C-141 Starlifter will be flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and retired, closing the book on the 43-year career of the Starlifter. But until then, the Hanoi Taxi, the flagship of the 445th Airlift Wing, attached, will be flown over the museum, on missions around the country.
The C-141 was first flown on Dec. 17, 1963, the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the Wright Brothers. Since the aircraft's operational debut on April 23, 1965, active duty, Guard and Reserve crews have played a critical role in every conflict, natural disaster and operation that Military Airlift Command or Air Mobility Command has been involved in. That includes delivering people, equipment and relief supplies to just about every point on the map. However, one mission still stands above the rest.
With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on Jan. 17, 1973, the U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended. On Feb. 12, crews flying three C-141As landed at Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi, North Vietnam. Their mission: repatriate the first U.S. servicemen held as prisoners of war, some for close to seven years. The first aircraft to land that day was serial number 66-0177. The aircraft quickly picked up the nickname Hanoi Taxi. The aircraft was repainted in 2003 in the same paint scheme it wore 32 years ago to commemorate that event.
After undergoing two major modification programs during its career, 66-0177, now a C-141C, has become a flying museum. The 40 POWs on that first flight signed the aircraft under the wing box, and those signatures are preserved under Plexiglas. Framed photos mounted on the inside of the cargo compartment show POWs in Hanoi and aboard the aircraft. Aircrew headrest
covers on the flight deck are embroidered with the black and white POW/MIA logo, and each of the crew positions has engraved plaques with the name of the crew member on that first Freedom Flight. The aircraft now has a total of 39,420 flight hours.
There are currently four C-141s still in service, but the other three aircraft will be retired early next year. Hanoi Taxi will be the last C-141, and the final flight will consist of a takeoff on the Patterson side of the field, where the 445th Airlift Wing is based, and a landing at the museum on the Wright Field side of the base. The 445th, an Air Force Reserve Command unit, is now converting to C-5As and will eventually receive eight aircraft.
James, Jr. Taylor