GENESEO — The journey from Washington, DC to Geneseo is a long one when you are trying to bring home an important part of our Vietnam War history.
National Warplane Museum Treasurer Donald Wilson worked for Kodak in Rochester in the late 1960s and became a big part of the Gambit project. He locked eyes on this Vietnam War C-130 plane and wanted to bring her home. These planes first flew in 1954. They are still being produced today; which makes them the longest military aircraft production ever. They are used by about 70 nations.
These planes also have a rich part of Kodak history. The C-130s retrieved returning film capsules from the Gambit photo recognition satellites built in Rochester. The C-130s had many uses in the air force, such as airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research, reconnaissance, aerial refueling, and aerial firefighting.
The National Air Space Museum transferred ownership of the Lockheed C-130 to the National Warplane Museum on April 27. This plane is most famous for the role it played in saving lives during the evacuation of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. It has sat at the Dulles International Airport for over 28 years.
The amount it would take to relocate this plane to Geneseo is a heavy one. It will cost $200,000 to move it from one museum to another.
“We need to get it in flyable condition, so that we can get it to Geneseo,” Wilson said. “We need volunteers to go down with us, and help us clean it up. It is too big to bring here any other way.”
Wilson said it is really expensive to fly the C-130, so once it is here the plane will be on display with the other warplanes.
The connection these planes have to the museum is that National Warplane Museum Trustee Martha Wadsworth flew a C-130 to Antarctica.
“Kodak had a government contract to design and build orbit photos from the 1960s to 1970s,” Wilson said. “I worked for Kodak on the Gambit program.”
Wilson added that when they applied for the C-130 they didn’t think they would get it.
“We want to preserve it and protect it,” he said. “We will display it the way the museum wants us too.”
This C-130 helped evacuate South Vietnamese citizens, and our soldiers to keep them from being prisoners at the end of the war.
Hundreds of people piled into these planes to be taken to Singapore and rescued at the end of the Vietnam War.
Wilson said that when they got down to take a look at the plane most of the cockpit was complete, which is a very rare thing in a plane that old.
“People will usually steal things out of the plane,” he said. “This one is complete on the inside. It has pretty much everything. It is in great shape considering it has been outside for almost 30 years.”
The C-130 should make its final landing at the National Warplane Museum in the Spring if all goes well.
“This plane is an important part of history,” Wilson said. “People were saved in the last hours at Saigon. The last pilot to fly our plane was a South Vietnamese Air Force Pilot (Pham Quang Khiem) who rescued 30 members of his family. He was arrested when he landed in Singapore, and accused of hijacking the plane.”
Wilson said that many museums only have these planes on display, and what makes National Warplane Museum unique is that they fly some of them.
Eventually Wilson would like to bring the Gambit to the museum as well. It hasn’t been used since the 1970s, but it still has the best resolution photos of space.
The name contest is one way Wilson is fundraising for the plane. You can choose between Freedom, Miss Saigon, Gambit, Hope, Camo, Martha, or pick your own idea. The donation with the name choice can be sent to National Warplane Museum at P.O. Box 185, Geneseo, NY, 14454 under Name This Airplane. Whatever the highest donation is will win the name of the plane.
Wilson said they won’t give up until the plane is safely transported to Geneseo.