Honoring our RF-101 veterans

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ian Caple
  • 189th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Over 20 retired airmen that flew and maintained the RF-101 Voodoo aircraft attended a dedication ceremony on Oct. 31, 2012 at Little Rock Air Force Base's Heritage Park. The Air National Guard aircraft display was recently moved from the 189th Airlift Wing campus to the LRAFB Heritage Park in August.

A dedication ceremony was the perfect way to honor some of the 189th's veterans and hear their stories.

"I want to thank you for being part of the rich heritage of the Arkansas Air National Guard,"
said Col. Steve Eggensperger, 189th Airlift Wing commander. "I speak for the current members when I say that we are very proud of our heritage. I know that it is your service and sacrifice in the earlier days that have laid the foundation for the 189th becoming what it is."
Col. Steve Eggensperger, 189th Airlift Wing commander, Chief Master Sgt. retired and fourth Command Chief Master Sergeant to the Director of the Air National Guard Richard Green and Brig. Gen. retired and former Commander of the Arkansas Air National Guard and the 189th Airlift Wing Gaylen Bryant unveiled a new plaque following the ceremony and were guest speakers for the event.

"Today we dedicate this aircraft in memory of all veterans, but in particular those Arkansas Air National Guardsmen who stood ready to 'Guard America and Defend Freedom'," said narrator, Master Sgt. Steve Wilson. "For their service and sacrifice, we are eternally grateful."

Those attending took a moment of silence for Lt. Col. Bobby Hall, Maj. Hank Ebbing and 2nd Lt. Don Clark, three Arkansas Air National Guardsmen who made the ultimate sacrifice while operating the RF-101.

The RF-101 was delivered to the United States Air Force on July 10, 1958 and was assigned to Tactical Reconnaissance wings and groups in France, England, and South Carolina before being assigned to the 188th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, Arkansas Air National Guard, Fort Smith Municipal Airport, in October 1970.

In October 1972 the aircraft was assigned to the 189th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, Arkansas Air National Guard, Little Rock Air Force Base. The 189th used the aircraft to maintain a mission ready force. A typical sortie included aerial refueling, low level and photographing simulated enemy targets.

"The 101 was a great airplane to fly," said Gen. retired Bobby Britain. "Our flights were usually short and consisted of taking photos on film of different locations. We had a hard time fitting into the traffic pattern sometimes because the C-130s were going a lot slower."

The aircraft was also used to provide weather reconnaissance. In January 1976 the aircraft was dropped from the United States Air Force's inventory and transferred to museum status as a static display on the 189th campus. Airmen from the 189th Operations Group and the 189th Maintenance Group refurbished the aircraft with the current paint scheme in 2007. In August 2012 Airmen from Team Little Rock moved the aircraft to its current location in Heritage Park.

The majority of those who worked with the plane felt that their lives slowed down as the aircraft did. The KC-135 followed the RF-101 at Little Rock Air Force Base. This large aerial refueling aircraft had four of the same engines that the RF-101 did, was much louder and moved half as fast. Most moved onto the C-130, losing half of their airspeed and sound for the last time.

"Every time I converted airplanes, my wife said that I slowed down half my airspeed and I guess that's true," said Brig. Gen. retired Bobby Britain. "My last plane was an HH60, which was a helicopter so I learned to hover in my last assignment."

The camaraderie that the RF-101 aircrew shares is priceless. Pilots and maintainers both were laughing and sharing memories throughout the day. They all still keep in touch and most live in Arkansas.

"I feel really blessed to be a member of the Air National Guard and to fly this airplane. It was a wonderful aircraft to fly," Brig. Gen. Bryant said. "Sometimes you don't realize how much these people mean to you until you get older and start looking back."