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On April 29, 1975, tail number 56-0518 flew the last mission out of Vietnam before the fall of Saigon. Prior to that date, the aircraft was delivered to the South Vietnamese Air Force in 1972 as part of the Nixon administration’s effort to bolster that country’s defense against the invading communist forces from the North. On the 29th, the day before Saigon fell, North Vietnamese forces destroyed virtually all aircraft – more than 100 planes – on the flightline at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. 0-5-1-8 was the only C-130 to avoid ruin. In a panicked state, hundreds of refugees rushed to get aboard this last flyable C-130, the aircraft representing their final ticket to freedom. In all, 452 people were on board, including 32 in the cockpit alone. The aircraft was overloaded by at least 10,000 pounds and required every foot of runway to become airborne, including hitting the brakes while taxiing in order to close the rear ramp doors. The plane ultimately landed in Thailand, and was later returned to the U.S. Air Force. Due to its original assignment with the 62d Troop Carrier Squadron and the 314th Troop Carrier Wing, the aircraft was retired to Little Rock AFB and has been on display at the main gate since 1989.
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