For many, the USAF's C-133 was a great flying machine. Former Cargomaster crewmen will gather, perhaps for the last time, this weekend at the Air Mobility Command Museum on Dover AFB to celebrate the plane.
Members of the military are a notoriously close-knit group, but perhaps none are more so than the men who flew and maintained the Air Force’s C-133 airplane during the Cold War.
Otherwise known as the Cargomaster, the C-133 had a unique mission: among the usual items it could carry to the corners of the Earth, it also was designed to carry the instruments of nuclear war.
The plane was so unusual that only 48 were built and flown, with that number divided between Travis Air Force Base, Fairfield, California, and Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the C-133, almost 100 former Cargomaster aircrew members and maintenance personnel from across the country will journey on May 9 and May 10 to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB for what some are calling their last hurrah.
“We’re all up in our 70s and 80s, and some of us are even in our 90s,” said retired U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Hank Baker of Dover. “We can’t get around as much as we used to.”
Baker, who at age 80 still volunteers regularly at the AMC Museum, helped set up the reunion, along with fellow Cargomaster crewmen Larry Phillips, Dick Strouse, George McDuffie and Waymond Deaton. They worked with retired navigator Dick Hanson, now of Minnesota, to make all the arrangements. Hanson took over for fellow crewmate Edward “Sandy” Sandstrom of Lewes, who died in 2013.
Although it could carry all types of cargo, the C-133 had one specific purpose.
“The Air Force was building all these nuclear missiles, and someone realized they didn’t have a way to move them to the different sites all over the country,” Baker said.
The result was an airplane with a wing set high on the fuselage to allow an unobstructed amount of space to accommodate the nation’s largest weapons.
“It was built very quickly, with no prototypes,” Baker said. “If they needed to make changes, they made them on the assembly line.”
The haste in putting the Cargomaster into production also was blamed for a myriad of mechanical problems that plagued the aircraft, particularly in its early years. Accidents and mishaps claimed 10 aircraft and their crews, including some stationed at Dover.
The closeness the Cargomaster fliers felt made those losses particularly severe, Baker said.
“Because we were small units, everyone got very close,” he said. “Everyone knew each other and everyone depended on each other.”
The reunion will feature what Baker called “the biggest collection of flying talent from any unit you’ve ever had.”
“Our experiences, and the fact that we survived them, cemented those relationships,” Baker said.
Along with dinner at the AMC Museum Friday night, the former fliers will be telling plenty of war stories and listening to a number of speakers, including former Capt. Dennis “Bud” Traynor, a prior C-133 crewman who, in 1975 successfully crash landed a C-5 evacuating children and orphans from South Vietnam.
There also will be a gathering at the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino on Saturday, as well as a number of private reunions.
Despite the large number of former Cargomaster personnel coming together at the museum, Hanson knows there were more who simply could not make the trip.
They, too, will be remembered.
“We’ve heard from a lot of our colleagues who would love to be here, but just can’t make it,” he said. “You hear stories from these old airmen who are fading away, and remember they’re part of the whole spirit of things.”