Face of Defense: Airman, C-130H Share Mobility Legacy


During the Mobility Guardian power-projection exercise here this month, one of the last active-duty C-130H Hercules aircraft still flew true. On the ground, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Michael Simkins, 36th Airlift Squadron superintendent, watched the bird from afar, reminded of its durability and legacy.

Simkins, stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan, flew here on Tail No. 74682 to participate in Mobility Guardian in the midst of an active-duty transition from H-model C-130s to the C-130J. Both of their eras are about to come to a close and leave behind an impression in mobility history.

Simkins entered the Air Force as a C-130H crew chief in 1989. Since then, he has been stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. He said he has been captivated by the C-130 his entire career.

"When I came into the Air Force, my recruiter sold me on being a C-130 crew chief," the native of Cheektowaga, New York, said. "He said I could put my name on the side of C-130 and travel the world. I thought it was an awesome opportunity."

Simkins has served on eight deployments and more than 20 temporary duty assignments with the airframe. In 2003, he retrained to become a C-130 flight engineer to stay with the airframe. "I've been with it so long that it kind of feels like it has its own personality," he said. "It's going to move for you, and it's going to let you know when it's sick. It's almost like it has its own soul."

People, Community, History

The C-130 is important to him for many reasons, the chief said.

"The people, the community and the history are what make the aircraft so special," he explained. "You can go to the worst locations, but if you have great people to work with while you're there, you can have a great time.

"If you find out the history, you get attached," he continued. "When I was a crew chief, I was truly attached to my airplane. I knew the ins and outs. I loved being a crew chief. I thought it was the best job in the world."

Yokota is nearing the end of its transition to the C-130J, meaning Simkins' time with the airframe will be coming to an end. Yet, his faith in his craft continues to shine bright as he will continue onto a new chapter in his life, he said. He will move to Air Mobility Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, but not before he completes a "fini-flight" on the anniversary of the first C-130 prototype flight.

Through the years, Simkins has helped his fellow airmen by providing guidance.

"He's the best mentor I've ever had," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Scott Appleby, a flight engineer previously assigned to the 36th AS. "He's always been there for others, the same way he's always been there for me."

As for Tail No. 74682, it will remain with the other C-130H's at Yokota until the end of the J-model conversion in the near future. Since the transition began in 2016, the base has received four C-130J's.

More than 650 international military personnel and 3,000 U.S. service members focused on Air Mobility Command's four core competencies -- airlift, air refueling, aeromedical evacuation and air mobility support -- during Mobility Guardian, but the exercise also allowed for closure for two Air Force entities. Though their era together is ending, the C-130H and Simkins will go down in mobility history.