Nikon D80, Nikkor AF-S DX ED 18-200mm VR lens at f6.3, 1/160sec, ISO 100, 20mm, July, 2007
On May 6, 2006, The USAF retired its last Lockheed C-141 Starlifter to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.The decades of distinguished service performed by C-141s would have been enough to draw the attention of aviation enthusiasts around the world, but the retirement of this particular aircraft, serial number 66-0177, marked a major milestone in American history.
This aircraft had become world famous on February 12, 1973, as the first C-141 to land in North Vietnam to repatriate the American prisoners of war (POWs) as part of the peace settlemant for the Southeast Asia WAR. dIsplaying a large Red Cross on its tail to demonstrate the humanitarian mission it was flying, 66-0177 landed at Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi, as the first group of 40 POWs waited with no visible signs of emotion. Having vowed to show no emotion in front of their North Vietnamese captors, they quietly boarded the airplane and took their seats. As the wheels left the runway, however, the world inside the airplane erupted with a joyous cheer from the freed American servicemen, and this now famous aircraft turned towadr Clark Air Base in the Philippines on the flight that symbolized the end of the Southeast Asia War.
This aircraft flew two missions into Hanoi, carrying out 78 POWs and two civilian returnees to the Philippinrs, and for missions from the Philippines to the United States carrying 76 ex-POWs. Afterward, 66-0177 continued flying missions around the world, but the airplane would never be the same. Demonstrating its historical importance, the aircraft quickly became immortalized with a nickname: Hanoi Taxi.
Over the next three decades of service, the Hanoi Taxi flew more than 40,000 hours, and it underwent many changes. Originally built as a C-141A model, the fuselage was lengthened by 23.3 feet in the early 1980’s, USAF redesignated as a C-141B. Later, the wings were strengthened, and from 1997 to 2001, all C-141Bs were converted to C-141Cs by the addition of advanced avionics. In 2002, the Hanoi Taxi received its final programmed depot maintenance, and it was repainted as it appeared when it wnt to Hanoi in 1973 – except for the Red Cross. It flew in these markings for the next four years.
In May 2004, the Hanoi Taxi again tapped the timelines of history when Maj Gen Edward Mechenbier, himself a POW repatriated from Vietnam, flew it back to repatriate the remains of two American service members kille in action.
Much as the dedication of the Vietman Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC in 1982, marked a signpost for those American service members who died in the Southeast Asia War, the retirement of the HANOI TAXI at the National Museum of the US Air Force similarly marked the signpost for America’s prisoners of war and missing in action of that war…….
National Museum of the United States Air Force
*Featured: “Airplanes & Airports” – July 27, 2013