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From BUFFs to Herks, a rare bird retires

  • Published
  • By Mr. Mitch Topal
  • 166th Airlift Wing

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ronald B. Wesley, a C-130H2 navigator, landed at New Castle Air National Guard Base, Del. for the last time on January 31, 2019. His final flight was greeted with an arc of water fired from the cannons of two Station 33 aircraft crash fire rescue trucks. When the crew parked the Herk and shut down its engines, Wesley stepped from the aircraft to receive his requisite shower by fire hose. His official retirement ceremony was held during the regularly scheduled drill weekend on February 9, 2020.

Wesley is one of a rare cadre of aviators who transitioned from flying the B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber to the C-130 Hercules tactical airlift aircraft.

“On active duty flying B-52s, we’d get out the road occasionally to airshows,” said Wesley. “We’d see C-130s on display so we’d go talk to the air crews and we found out that several of them were former BUFF guys. It was a pretty logical transition because they’re both legacy airframes and the low-level mission is pretty similar. The B-52 is an all-weather low-altitude IFR aircraft that’s dropping bombs and the C-130 is dropping things using a similar flight profile. The hardest transition was going from that all-weather SAC mentality to more visual navigation, flying slower speeds and things like that. In both cases you’re flying an airplane, dropping things on a target and trying to get there on-time.”

What makes Wesley’s career truly unique were his deployments since transferring to the Delaware Air National Guard. These included Operation Support Hope, which delivered supplies to the desperate refugees of the Rwandan genocide in the mid-1990s.

“So, when I first transitioned to the guard unit here in 1995 I got deployed right off the bat to Africa for Operation Support Hope which was in response to the Rwandan genocide. We flew our missions into the refugee camps. We’d fly in food, fuel for cooking, utensils, medical and other desperately needed supplies,” he explained.

“One particular mission that stood out was when we landed in Goma, Zaire on the border with Ruanda. It was overwhelmed with refugees. The airfield was at the tip of Lake Kivu and there was a volcano at one end of the runway and the lake on the other. So there was one way in and one way out with high terrain all around you. You were talking to a Swahili national who was speaking French, Russian, and English trying to give you instructions. He’d clear you to land and there were literally thousands of people – mostly unaccompanied children – milling around on the runway. So the rules of engagement were to go in and make the approach and hopefully they’d jump out of the way. One of our pilots was famous for having landed on a goat, though I never confirmed that.”

Later on, Wesley participated in missions to Bosnia, South America, and right after 9/11, to Tabuk, Saudi Arabia.

“We were part of the initial wave that got to Tabuk. The fighters had their section of the camp built, but the airlift portion wasn’t,” explained Wesley. “We were dog tired after flying all night, for several days. When we got there, we had to build our tents and lived off of MREs for a month or two.”

Wesley, a traditional guardsman who spends his other 28 days as a groundwater geologist, looks forward to devoting more time to his family.