23rd Wing dedicates new Flagship aircraft

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Thomas Johns
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

The 71st Rescue Squadron U.S. Air Force HC-130J Combat King II tail number 13-5785 was dedicated as the newest 23rd Wing Flagship March 30, 2022.

Dubbed “The Whale Shark,” this J-model 130, is the first to feature the Flying Tiger Teeth and replaces the previous Flagship aircraft, an HH60G Pavehawk, which currently sits in retirement at the George W. Bush Airpark.

“Every Wing has a Flagship, and Col. Cook chose the HC-130J for what it represents,” said 2nd Lt. Dusty Strickland, 71st RQS sortie support flight commander. “This plane represents the rescue commitment to travel the world and save lives to embody the motto, ‘That others may live’.”

U.S. Air Force Col. Russell Cook, 23rd Wing commander chose the HC-130J Combat King II as the 23rd Wings Flagship due to its similarities to the HC-130P King which refueled his missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We name the jets, we call them him or her, paint mustaches and teeth on them as an extension of ourselves,” Cook said during a speech at the dedication ceremony. “The shark teeth of Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers have once again returned to the HC-130, humanizing a machine that’s as much a warfighter as any of us.”

A Flagship is a dedicated aircraft with either the squadron, group, or wing commander's name, and the dedicated crew chief’s name painted on the aircraft. Flagships primarily serve as the pride of a base or units’ fleet of aircraft, and are usually selected to represent a certain mission or idea.

“The Flagship stands as a symbol and rallying point for the wings command,” said William Godwin, 23rd Wing historian. “It represents the commander of the squadron, group, or wing. For the maintainers, this is a source of immense pride, knowing that the wing commander chose their aircraft as his flagship.”

The choice of aircraft also stands out as a historic first for the 23rd Wing.

“From May 1, 2001 to September 30, 2006 the 347th Rescue Wing at Moody AFB dedicated an HC-130P Navigator as their Flagship,” Godwin said “However, this is the first time the 23rd Wing has dedicated a C-130 of any kind as it’s Flagship aircraft.”

Along with the teeth and commander's name, the tail flash and tail number are shadowed with white accents to help the aircraft stand out. As the dedicated Flagship, HC-130J Combat King II tail 13-5785 will continue to fly and spread the 23rd Wing’s mission in an operational capacity.

“The teeth may have been first painted to inspire fear in our enemies, but it’s just as importantly a reminder and inspiration for ourselves,” Cook said. “A reminder that we are here to fight, the first to run to the call of help.”