When Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz climbed aboard the MC-130E Combat Talon I at Hurlburt Field, Fla., July 12, for his last flight as an active duty officer, he immediately began to reminisce on his flying career with special operations and the C-130 Hercules community.
“This is more than a little sentimental for me to be back in this seat again,” the general said. “It’s a special privilege to complete my flying career on this aircraft.”
During a visit to Hurlburt Field to meet with airmen and Air Force Special Operations Command leadership, Schwartz joined an MC-130E crew on a local training sortie, which served as Schwartz’s “fini flight” in the Air Force.
The MC-130E he flew, No. 64-0568, belongs to the 919th Special Operations Wing, an Air Force Reserve wing at Duke Field, Fla. Schwartz, who piloted No. 568 on a memorable but arduous mission in 1982, said the aircraft holds a special place in his heart. Before boarding, he stopped and saluted the aircraft, which along with the general is also scheduled for retirement.
Many of the flight crew for the mission had either flown with him or served under him during his special operations tours. The flight engineer, CMSgt. Tyler Outten, flew with him when he commanded the 36th Tactical Airlift Squadron at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., in 1987.
“It’s very special to have you here for this final flight, Tyler,” Schwartz said over the radio before the takeoff. “It’s amazing thinking about those fun times. Who would’ve thought we’d have ended up the way we did?”
Outten said he was thrilled to engineer one more flight for his former commander.
“It was an honor and a privilege to fly the general’s fini flight,” Outten said. “I consider him one of the most respected men to wear the uniform. He has been an overarching influence to me and many other Airmen over the years. He’s a class act.”
Between an airdrop and an aerial refueling of a CV-22 Osprey over the Gulf of Mexico, Schwartz and the crew shared stories and memories over the radio, remembering the “good ol’ days.” The general said jokingly that it had “been awhile” since he had seen that Combat Talon control panel he knew so well.
Lt. Col. Thomas Miller, the co-pilot for the flight, said Schwartz knocked the rust off quickly and got down to the mission at hand.
“In his early years, General Schwartz was highly regarded as an outstanding Combat Talon pilot, and he was able to regain those same flying skills within a matter of minutes,” Miller said. “I was very impressed with his ability to adapt to mission changes. It was a true honor for all of us to share that last flight with him.”
The training flight ended with three touch-and-goes before returning to the Hurlburt Field runway where Schwartz’s wife Suzie and a group of well-wishers waited. Upon exiting the Combat Talon, Schwartz received the ceremonial “hose down” before greeting his old friends and colleagues, many of whom still live in the local area.
Even though he had just completed the last flight hours of his 39-year Air Force career, afterward the general was all smiles.
“To have the opportunity to join this outstanding crew on their training sortie, for one last flight while in the Air Force, was truly special,” Schwartz said. “They are true professionals dedicated to their country, and like all our airmen, I will always be proud to have served alongside them.”
Schwartz’s retirement ceremony will be held Aug. 10 at Joint Base Andrews, Md.