End of an Era
Last C-141 crew chief class preparing to keep bird flying

By 2nd Lt. Ian Phillips
Senator staff writer

Imagine being the last of a kind and the possibility of extinction isn't a too far off in the future.

That's the position three Airmen-in-training are in as they are last three C-141 Starlifter crew chief's the Air Force will train. July 25 will be a historic day when they graduate.

Reservists Staff Sgt. Lauro Valles Jr., Senior Airman Michael Engle and Airman 1st Class Adam Winebrenner will return to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and the 20 C-141s waiting for them.

"It's exciting to be a part of history, especially with the instructors we've had," Sergeant Valles said. "It's a great learning environment we've been in."

During their 50-day class, the Airmen will have received classroom lectures as well as hands-on training to supplement their bookwork.

Their instructors provide the students with knowledge of everything from how to open the aircraft doors to the intricacies of its mechanical and electrical systems.

"My job as an instructor is to make sure they know every part of this aircraft and can deal with it on their own when they leave here," said Peggy Feliciano, an instructor teaching C-141s since 1993.

After 30 days in class, the Airmen said they have found it is everything they expected it to be.

"It is very interesting. Troop and cargo transports are very versatile aircraft," Airmen Engle said. "I'm just surprised we are the last class and the aircraft is going away."

Expecting the class to be difficult was something the senior airman said he was expecting.

"It is a much bigger challenge to me than services was, which is what I used to do," he said. "It is more of a challenge in the aircraft and I enjoy that."

Once the students graduate, they return to Wright-Patterson for additional training to let all of the material learned here sink in. All three are full time students when they aren't wearing their Air Force reservist hats.

The C-141 was Air Mobility Command's first jet aircraft designed to meet military standards as a troop and cargo carrier when it started flying in 1965.

Training at Sheppard started right around the same time the aircraft started operations and has continued ever since.

The C-141 proved its reliability to the Air Force and its mission with the ability to perform a large variety of tasks.

The Starlifter has the ability to carry 200 troops, 155 paratroops, 103 litters and 14 seats or 68,725 pounds of cargo.

With more than 40 years of service and nearly nine million flying hours, the C-141 has proven its importance to the Air Force and these students plan to carry on this tradition until the Air Force retires the Starlifter.