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C-141 Tail Number:

This is the aircraft that became famous as the "Hanoi Taxi". It was the first aircraft into Hanoi when the prisoners where released. After this momentous event it rejoined the MAC fleet and flew the line like all the other C-141's, rarely gathering so much as a passing glance by anyone.

Though it gets most of the 'press' because it was the first C-141 to go into Hanoi, 66-0177 was not the only aircraft to fly the "Operation Homecoming" missions. I have obtained a list of the tail numbers and mission dates for all these and you can view it at this link .

My own log book shows a few hours flying in it but we simply picked up the plane out in the system and continued whatever mission it was flying. Over a couple of days I picked up just under 20 hours sitting in the pilot's seat but was blissfully unaware of the great story behind this C-141. If anyone else on the crew was aware of 177's place in history they kept quiet about it, probably assuming we all knew.

It was restored to its original gray and white paint scheme for a special trip to Viet Nam to return newly found human remains resulting from Viet Nam era aircraft crashes.

The C-141 continued to be involved in returning POWS ..... well into the new century. Here's a link to a story about a return from Iraq in 2003 , involving tail number 66-7960.

In May of 2006, 177 made its last flight when it flew from Wright-Patterson, where it was last based, to the AF museum for permanent public display. Steven Walters prepared a nice PowerPoint presentation documenting the last flight of 177. See this link to view it.

Here's a link link to a photo shoot done a few months before 66-0177 retired . And another one showing some painting activity done in late April, just a few days prior to the big retirement ceremony. Everyone there agreed, 177 looked great for that final flight and last taxi.

You can click here to see some photos of 177 at the NMUSAF taken after it was placed on public display.


A very early shot of 177 and her sisters, submitted by Gary Wilson.


Date:January 1968
Location:Hickam AFB
Copyright: Nicholas Williams

Date:August 1968
Location:Danang, RVN
Copyright: Nicholas Williams

Date:August 1968
Location:Danang, RVN
Copyright: Nicholas Williams

Date:August 1968
Location:Danang, RVN
Copyright: Nicholas Williams


Both the exterior and cockpit shot were taken at Randolph AFB when 60177 was there for the 25th anniversary of the first mission to Hanoi.
Copyright: Duncan Williams.


A SORT OF HOMECOMING
Airman Magazine
by Tech. Sgt. George Hayward
photos by Staff Sgt. Steve Thurow

The C-141 was on static display at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, for a one-day stop during an eight-day airlift mission that would take it across the Pacific Ocean. Tech. Sgt. Henry Harlow and other crew members chatted with visitors in the aircraft's open cargo bay, explaining its prominence in the Vietnam War. A thin, 50-ish man stepped forward with a question.

His name was John Blevins. A retired lieutenant colonel, he'd spent more than six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam until his release on March 4, 1973. He wanted information about an aircraft that flew him out of Hanoi. That aircraft - also a C-141 - had been his liberation, a resurrection of sorts. He'd heard Harlow could help him.

Harlow excused himself, and returned a minute later carrying an open binder. He turned it so Blevins could read the page. It was a passenger manifest for a flight from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi to Clark Air Base, Philippines - March 4, 1973. The aircraft was a C-141 bearing tail No. 660177.

This aircraft.

The eyes of both men moistened. "Welcome home," Harlow whispered. "This was your aircraft."







More than 25 years later, one of the aircraft that brought them home has become a traveling POW museum. To many former POWs, it's a sort of homecoming.

Twenty-six years before it sat on the Randolph flight line, aircraft No. 660177 was one of 16 Air Force C-141s that carried American POWs home during Operation Homecoming. According to Harlow, just 11 of those aircraft still fly. Four of them, including 660177, are assigned to Air Force Reserve Command's 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

But this aircraft, nicknamed "One-Seven-Seven," has even greater significance to POWs. It flew the first Homecoming mission, carrying 40 men out of Hanoi on Feb. 12, 1973. Today, it's often called the "Hanoi Taxi" and travels the world not only as an operational airlifter, but as a monument to brave men and their families.

"Although this was the first aircraft out of Hanoi, it represents all of the Homecoming freedom flights," Harlow said. "It also represents the POWs who didn't get a chance to come home and the families who didn't see their husbands or fathers come down that ramp."

Harlow, an air reserve technician, is the senior adviser for an ongoing POW "mission" that started four years ago when the 445th took possession of the aircraft. Its new crew chief, Tech. Sgt. Dave Dillon, noticed a worn blue label stuck to the engineers' panel. Just a couple inches long, it bore two words: HANOI TAXI.

"We started asking questions and collecting information," Harlow said. "It just kind of steamrolled from there."

It steamrolled through the drive of Dillon, Harlow, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Wittman and a handful of other reservists in the 445th. They've volunteered time and money to turn One-Seven-Seven into a POW museum. The aircraft's nose art is the shield of the 4th Allied POW Wing, the organization of Vietnam POWs. Inside, a plaque commemorates the first Homecoming flight on Feb. 12, 1973, and the walls are lined with photos documenting the POWs' captivity, release and homecomings. Visitors can leave the aircraft with a fistful of literature on POW issues.

"The unit supports us, but many times we use our own money to obtain specific items for the display," Harlow said. "And it's not work to us. It's a labor of love."

The aircraft's crew has become passionate in their admiration for the strength and bravery of the POWs. Their stop at Randolph was part of a small POW reunion (see "Freedom Flight" in September's Airman), and Senior Master Sgt. Gary Fernandez, a flight engineer, collected autographs of former POWs for his young children. "Why do people want autographs of celebrities?" he asked. "These men are the real heroes. They have something to teach us, something we can look up to."

Today, the aircraft is on the A-list of air show invitations, but frequently has to turn away the invites because it still flies real-world missions, including airlift operations earlier this year to Kosovo. "The only reason we can put the aircraft on display is if it's not committed to a mission," Harlow said.

Now 43, Harlow was a young, active duty airman during Operation Homecoming and remembers following it in the news. He's become the aircraft's senior advisor because he's a walking warehouse of POW knowledge. "It's a subject I've always been interested in," he said. "I get the information wherever I can. I research and read everything I can get my hands on."

He shares that lore with anyone who wants it. He gets several queries via mail each month, and left a 1998 airshow in Oshkosh, Wis., with 114 requests for information. "It took about three months, but every one of them has been answered," he said.

Harlow's knowledge includes detailed facets of those earlier, historic missions flown by One-Seven-Seven and other C-141s, back when the aircraft were painted white, with the bright red cross signifying a medical plane.

"The flight nurses basically bought the base exchange at Clark Air Base out of perfume, and sprayed down the entire interior of each airplane - all the bulkheads, from head to tail," he said. "The POWs have told us that as they came around to the ramp at the back of the airplane, they could smell it. And to them, it smelled like America."

Many POWs were captured before the C-141 entered service, so they'd never seen the new airlifter until they boarded one for a flight to freedom. "They tell us the aircraft represented America," Harlow said. "It was the cleanest, most beautiful thing they had seen in a lot of years."

Lt. Col. Norlan Daughtrey can't say if his plane was clean. As one of the longest-held POWs, he was on that first flight out of Hanoi, Feb. 12, 1973, aboard One-Seven-Seven. "I never saw that aircraft because when I got on it, I was crying so hard," he said. "And they were tears of joy."

Lt. Col. John Yuill was one of the last POWs out of Hanoi in 1973. A B-52 pilot, he was shot down and captured during Operation Linebacker II, the December 1972 bombing campaign that is credited with winning the POWs' release. More than 26 years later, he stood on the ramp of the Hanoi Taxi at Randolph, looking back into the cargo bay lined with photos of his fellow POWs. It was like looking through a time tunnel.

"You know, I've had only two rides in a C-141 in my life," he recalled. "One was from Hanoi to Clark Air Base. The other was from Clark to Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. So anytime I see a C-141, that's what I think of."

Harlow said his unit tries to make the aircraft available for any POW who wishes to visit. Such visits can be very emotional, or very solemn. He recalled one former POW who stared at a single photograph for nearly 40 minutes. "It's a closure of sorts," Harlow said. "When he was ready to move on, he moved on."







Tech. Sgt. Henry Harlow shows retired Lt. Col. John Blevins the manifest for Blevins' 1973 freedom flight aboard the Hanoi Taxi. When he returned to the aircraft 26 years later, he had come full circle.

To Lt. Col. John Blevins, that Friday afternoon at Randolph was more than a closure. He stood in the bay of the plane that carried him to freedom, struggling to find words. "It hits you in the gut," he said haltingly. "It's unbelievable."

He called it a sort of homecoming.

If you want information about the Hanoi Taxi or any Vietnam POW, Tech. Sgt. Henry Harlow will help you find the answer. Write him at:
PO Box 728
Fairborn, Ohio 45324-0728


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 1, 2004


Air Force's 'Hanoi Taxi' Offers Sense Of History On The Fly

Plane transported U.S. POWs out of Vietnam

By Meg Jones

Oshkosh - Among the many planes attracting crowds at EAA AirVenture this weekend is an Air Force Lockheed C-141C that has seen its share of sorrow and heartache.

On Feb. 12, 1973, the military transport airlifted the first American prisoners of war from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi and took them home to their families.

It was nicknamed the "Hanoi Taxi" by the just freed prisoners who signed their names on a bulkhead inside the plane during the flight home.

Painted in the original colors and markings used in 1973, it's still being used but now in a war far from the jungles of Vietnam. The C-141C is part of the rotation of planes used by the 445th Airlift Wing based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio that take supplies and medical personnel to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Germany and airlift injured soldiers out of those countries.

The plane is also a flying museum - there are photos of the American POWs leaving Hanoi dressed in dark trousers and gray jackets, grinning while sitting inside the plane and returning to America to greet their families. There are North Vietnamese propaganda pictures of POWs and drawings of the torture endured by the men.

The bulkhead with the signatures of the POWs is under protective plastic, and a plaque lists each state with the number of Americans still missing from Vietnam. Wisconsin has 33.

For Tim Baldwin, piloting the "Hanoi Taxi" gives him a sense of history.

"We get a lot of POWs who come to the air shows" who want to go on board again, Baldwin said shortly after the C-141C arrived at AirVenture.

The 168-foot-long plane can hold as much as 34 tons of cargo or 200 soldiers, 103 litters and 14 seats. It travels at a top speed of 500 mph and can soar as high as 41,000 feet. It travels to the Middle East and Europe four to five times a week and generally spends only three to four hours on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan for safety reasons, Baldwin said.

Last week Baldwin and the other crew members carried out 15 patients on litters and 23 walking wounded from Iraq.

Many wounded soldiers don't notice the photos of the Vietnam POWs on the walls until well into the flight, Baldwin said.

"I think they're just very happy to be going home. Once they're on board they see the pictures, and they can see the history," Baldwin said.

Waiting in the line that stretched out the back of the plane was Jerry Duncan, who was visiting AirVenture from Dayton, Ohio, with his wife, Debbie, and 11-year-old son Chris. Duncan was surprised to see the plane considering he had flown it - he recognized the tail number - from 1977 to 1982 when he was based in New Jersey.

"I haven't seen one of these planes in 22 years," said Duncan, who remembered watching the return of the POWs from Vietnam while he was a sophomore at the Air Force Academy.

His roommate's father, Donald Waltman, was one of the returning prisoners of war. Duncan found Waltman's signature in black marker on the bulkhead.

"We sat and watched them on a black and white TV unload the plane. We got some time off to watch it. It was cool," Duncan said.

The Air Force will soon mothball the C-141. Once among the workhorses of military transport planes, the last handful still flying will retire by 2006. The "Hanoi Taxi" - which will be on display at AirVenture through Monday - is destined for the Air Force museum at Wright-Patterson next year.


From a 'history' document generated at WRALC

The Hanoi Taxi

The last topic deals with one of the Air Force's most hallowed aircraft C-141B T/N 66-0177, better known as the Hanoi Taxi. On 12 February 1973, this Starlifter became the first U.S. aircraft to transport American Prisoners of War (POWs) to freedom from Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (North), during Operation Homecoming. The Hanoi Taxi derived its name from the inscriptions written by the POWs on the flight engineers panel. Over the years the signatures and declarations of the proud men flying home to freedom have been lovingly preserved by the crews who have flown the great old lady. Over the years T/N 66-0177 has become for all intents and purposes a flying museum.

Late in FY01, leaders of the 445th Airlift Wing (445AW), Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, the using unit, knowing that number 66-0177 would be retired in late 2004, asked their superiors at HQ AFRC for permission to repaint their plane the 1970s gray and white paint scheme during its final programmed depot maintenance (PDM) at WR-ALC in FY02. Not only did AFRC officials grant permission but the also agreed to fund the repaint. Center C-141 SPO workers took great care with the Hanoi Taxi during its fourth quarter FY02 PDM. Even as they completed their work for the formal final roll out ceremonies, a special pilot arrived with 66-0177's regular crew to fly her home for the last time.

Major General Edward J. Mechenbier was the special pilot. Then serving as Mobilization Assistant to the AFMC Commander, Lester Lyles, Mechenbier was one of those young POWs who came home on the Hanoi Taxi@ from the terrible prison he and his fellow POWs named the Hanoi Hilton. In June 1967, then Lieutenant Mechenbier, stationed at Da Nang Air Base (AB), Republic of Viet Nam (South), left on his 80th mission over the North as part of Operation Rolling Thunder. When the enemy shot down his F-4C Phantom fighter aircraft he bailed out and was captured. He spent the next five and eight months in brutal captivity. The day of his liberation, Mechenbier recalled that the C-141, was the most beautiful thing I had seen in six years!@ Nearly 30 years later the command pilot with 3,500 flying hours, had come full circle. On 7 October 2002, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Robins AFB Base Operations building to bid farewell to the Hanoi Taxi, the Air Force's flying tribute to the Vietnam War=s POWs and MIAs.

Among those present were the C-141 SPO employees who performed the PDM, several former POWs, and representatives of Middle Georgia POW/MIA groups as well as the Center Commander, Major General Donald Wetekam, Center Vice Commander Brigadier General Larry Stevenson, and Center Civilian Director Steve Davis. Those of us who toured the interior of the aircraft were moved by the plaques, documents, and photographs of the 1973 homecoming which had taken their places beside the original POW=s names and signatures to form this flying exhibit. In addition, etchings of the names of Vietnam era MIAs were also taken from the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. and mounted in the plane=s interior.

In his farewell address Mechenbier told the audience great to be doing something positive, but more importantly this airplane is a symbol of freedom of the spirit. Flying it is a tribute not only to me and the POWs, but to everybody that's brought this together. At 1018 hours, General Mechenbier lifted the Hanoi Taxi gently off the Robins AFB tarmac circled the field, tipped his wing in salute and headed home to Ohio. Truly as he had said earlier, "Flying it out today in this white and gray paint scheme will be a nostalgic trip back for me." Indeed, it was a moving experience for all those present.


This was grabbed from an Air Force Reserve Web site....

October 7, 2002
'Hanoi Taxi' returns to duty with new look

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Georgia - The "Hanoi Taxi," the Air Force's flying tribute to the Vietnam War's prisoners of war and missing in action, received a makeover and a hero's sendoff here before returning home Oct. 7.

The C-141 Starlifter was the first aircraft to airlift American POWs to freedom from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi, North Vietnam, Feb. 12, 1973.

The 445th Airlift Wing, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, which owns Aircraft No. 66-0177, asked Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command for permission to repaint the aircraft in the 1970's white and gray paint scheme. AFRC officials approved and funded the work, which was done while the aircraft underwent programmed depot maintenance at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center here.

Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Edward J. Mechenbier, one of the POWs repatriated aboard the Hanoi Taxi, flew the historic aircraft from Robins back to Wright-Patterson.

"It was the most beautiful thing I had seen in six years," said Mechenbier, mobilization assistant to the commander of Air Force Materiel Command, referring to the first time he saw the Hanoi Taxi.

Mechenbier, a command pilot with more than 3,500 flying hours, was assigned to Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, and was on his 80th mission over North Vietnam when his F-4C fighter was shot down in June 1967. He spent nearly six years as a POW before taking his first ride in the Hanoi Taxi.

Middle Georgia POW/MIA groups, C-141 maintenance workers who worked on the aircraft, 445th AW crewmembers, and Headquarters AFRC and Robins officials participated in the sendoff ceremony Oct. 7.

The Hanoi Taxi's name comes from the writing on the flight engineer's panel by the POWs aboard the plane for the freedom flight. Signatures of the freed prisoners have been preserved on the panel over the years and are the centerpiece of what is essentially a "flying museum." Plaques, documents and photographs of the homecoming are part of the on-board exhibit researched and created by the 445th AW. Etchings of the names of those who are missing in action were taken from the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., and are mounted on the plane.

"The Hanoi Taxi is a tribute to the men and women who serve in the Air Force," Mechenbier said. The general added that it is important for the American public to know about the airplane and what it means to the nation.

The aircraft, which has been upgraded to a C-141C with improved avionics, is used to transport troops and .cargo worldwide. It is one of four C-141s flown by the 445th AW that were involved in Operation Homecoming, the repatriation of American POWs in the Vietnam War.

All C-141s are scheduled to be retired from the Air Force inventory by 2006.


Here's a note I received from someone at Wright Patterson:

From: Jonathan Bell
To: C141HEAVEN
Date: Oct 15, 2004 - 7:03am


The Hanoi Taxi (66-0177) is stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB (now a "C" model) and will eventually go to the Air Force Musuem. It has been repainted to the white over grey paint scheme (like it was in 1973), pictures line the cargo walls of the POW flight, a plaque is at the front of the cargo compartment with the names of the first group of POW's released, and there is a panel with signatures of POW's that have revisited her. Just thought you'd like to know.

Jonathan Bell
CAPT, 356 AS, PILOT
PS. The 356 AS will be the last C-141 squadron.


A note received from Ed Horton:

I got to your web page through the guest book at www.610mass.org.

I was stationed at Yokota AFB from 69-73, flight line APG.

I can't remember what month it was but a message came out to remove the red crosses from the tails of the 141s. I was at your web site in the C-141:Chronology section and found the 12 FEB 73 article:

"Tail number 660177, painted white with a large Red Cross on its tail landed at Gia Lam airport, Hanoi, Vietnam Feb. 12, 1973. The plane arrived in Hanoi as part of "Operation Homecoming" - the return of America's Vietnam Conflict POWs."

Now that brought back memories, I helped remove the tail crosses from that C-141 at Yokota. I remember thinking this was the first C-141 to land at Hanoi and I'm peeling this red cross off the tail and removing a bit of history. I decided to save a piece of it as a memento. I took out my wallet and stuck part of the red cross inside a empty photo holder, and have kept it all these years. I later ended up working with the retired E-9 Flight Line Chief Mr. George Siebert who was stationed at Clark and was the senior NCO on that flight on A/C 660177 into Hanoi ... it's a small world.


A note received from Bill Enfield in January of 2005:

Just wanted to let you know from 1972 to 1974 at Norton AFB, Ca. I was the crew chief of 60-177 THE HANOI TAXI. What a wonderful opportunity it was to take part in that air lift I will never forget it. I am so glad to know she is still flying and not at DM a pile of scrap!!

MSGT Bill Enfield USAF RET. Navarre FL.


Source: USAF Photo

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Source: USAF Photo


Source: USAF Photo


Former POW and U.S. Air Force COL Robinson Risner, at the microphone, waves and thanks the crowd and press prior to boarding the waiting C-141 Starlifter for the flight to the states. Standing behind COL Risner is LT GEN William G. Moore, Commander 13th Air Force. COL Risner was captured on 16 Sep 65 and released by the North Vietnamese in Hanoi on 12 Feb 73.


Former POW and U.S. Air Force COL Ronald Edward Byrne Jr. talks to press and well wishes at microphones prior to boarding the C-141 Starlifter for the flight to the states. Behind COL Byrne is LT GEN William G. Moore, Commander 13th Air Force. COL Byrne was captured on 29 Aug 65 and was released in Hanoi by the North Vietnamese on 12 Feb 73.


U.S. Air Force ex-POWs, CPT Edward J. Mechenbier, (Captured 14 Jun 67) and CPT Kevin J. McManus (Captured 14 Jun 67) salute the Honor Guard colors on the flight line prior to boarding the C-141 Starlifter for the flight to the United States. Both men were released in Hanoi by North Vietnam on 18 Feb 73.


Returned POWs U.S. Navy CPT Jeremiah Andrew Denton (on left), (Captured 18 Jul 65) and Navy CPT James Alfred Mulligan, (Captured 20 Mar 66) along with 13th Air Force Commander, LGEN William G. Moore approach the microphones on the flight line for a farewell statement prior to board the C-141 Starlifter for the trip from Clark AB to sthe states. Both Denton and Mulligan were released by the North Vietnamese in Hanoi on 12 Feb 73 in Hanoi.


At Wright-Patterson on a rainy day
Copyright: Frank Saul

At Wright-Patterson on a rainy day
Copyright: Frank Saul


Copyright: Bob Pirolli

Copyright: Bob Pirolli

Copyright: Bob Pirolli

Copyright: Bob Pirolli

Copyright: Bob Pirolli


Copyright: John Mills

Copyright: John Mills


In the ugly green camo days
Source: Frank Duarte, Jr. See more of his work at www.airliners.net


On December 13th, 2005, 60177 was photographed in anticipation of the upcoming retirement ceremony. Over the course of the next several days I received copied of these official photos and a few others submitted by other folks. Here's a link to those photos: 60177 Photo Shoot


Here's a note from Stefanie Hauck, who flies out of Wright-Patterson:

I'm sending to you photos of the Hanoi Taxi's last overseas flight from Aviano AB Italy to Ramstein to WPAFB in July 2005. A professional picture was also taken by Aviano Public Affairs with a group of 445 AW members in front of the plane before she took off. You can contact Aviano AB to get the picture. I don't have a copy of it. Here are the pictures I took on the last overseas flight.

===============================================================================

Loaded with goat at Aviano
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At Aviano
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Flightline at Ramstein
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Another C-141 at Ramstein through Window of 177
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Porthole view from 177
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Me inside 177
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Inside 177 on last overseas flight
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Bulkhead signed by POWS
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When we were at Ramstein we were delayed by several groups of military/former military who toured the plane and took pictures of her. I plan on visiting the AF museum often to see her in the future. I'm glad she is not getting scrapped like the others.

After 15 years supporting C-141s I'm truly going to miss them. We have our first 2 C-5s. They are 3 times bigger than the 141. It's becoming a different world here at Wright-Patt.

Hope you are coming to the retirement ceremony on May 5-6.



MSgt. Stefanie Hauck
Logistics Planner
445 LRS/LGRR



These next three photos were taken by Don Russell in February 2001.
This shows the plaque listing the 40 POW's who were the first to be released on Feb 12th, 1973.


The seats...minus the 40 POW's. That's a "comfort pallet" behind (in front of, actually) the seats. The comfort pallet contained toilet facilities and better cooking facilities than the standard C-141 galley, which consisted of a $900 air force coffee maker and a $2,400 oven (metal box with a 15,000 watt heating element) used to turn frozen TV-style dinners into charcoal.

The seats shown here are the airline style seats, as opposed to the 'fold down' nylon web troop seats (the red things) that lined both sides of the a/c, all the airline seats are rear-facing so your ass got to your destination before your face, (still the official air force policy). Both the fold-down seats and the airline seats were as uncomfortable as they look.

Like all things military, the contractor for the airline seats was the low bidder. The seats contained about 1/2 inch of hard foam. They now sell seats to the airlines, except smaller and more tightly packed. I always thought the web seats were more comfortable, especially if the load was light and you could lay down on them and get some sleep. However, if you were heading home (from anywhere) or being evacuated from some hot spot or you were a POW just released and flown to freedom, the airline seats were better than the best Lazyboy recliner in front of your TV at home. Heaven.

This view is from the back of the a/c looking towards the front.


I must admit, I've never seen chocks with the tail number on them,
but I guess these are special ones.




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