Story and Photo by Staff Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine
Aviators tend to fall in love with their ships. “Guard Copter 368” is one of those aircraft that has earned its crew’s love through deployments, liability and legacy.
After 10 years of service with Detachment 1, Company B, 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), “368,” a CH-47D Chinook, departed for its last flight from Greenville, South Carolina, to Summit Aviation in Delaware, Aug. 16, 2016, where it will be either resold through auction or dismantled.
On its final journey, before “retiring” from the South Carolina National Guard, 368 completed one more mission by flying an additional crew of South Carolina Army National Guard aviators to Fort Drum, New York for the pickup of a CH-47F Chinook from Company B, 3-10 GSAB “Colossal,” 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain (Infantry Light) Division.
The good ship 368 has been with Det.1 since 2007, through both the 2009 and the 2013 deployments to Afghanistan, and it has never let its crews down.
“It flew well, never had major problems, and even allowed its crews to claim an interesting pedigree. 368 was built after Desert Storm, to replace two other Chinooks lost during the war. It was one of the only 3 ‘true D-model,’ and not an A, B, or C-model converted into a D,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Tommy Hunt, a technical inspector with over 12 years of experience on Chinooks, versions C, D, and F.
Even U.S. Army Maj. Bryan Lake, a West Point Graduate Class of 2001, and current Army Aviation Support Facility 2 maintenance officer, showed a particular attachment for 368 while preparing for the aircraft’s last journey. When inferring the “end of 368” he said, “lets not talk about that,” whispering those words if in proximity of 368, as if “she” could hear and see the end approaching.
In charge of the mission, Lake flew 368 all the way to Fort Drum, where the experienced—by some standards old— crewmembers landed the [Vietnam era] olive drab green 368 in the middle of the sage color-painted 10th Mountain Division’s F-model. To have both the gracefully aged men and the equally gracefully-aged machine parked on the flight-line at Fort Drum, in the middle of several, younger men, women and machines was the defining moment of 368’s last adventure. Suddenly ‘368’ was a dark green museum piece, with a palmetto tree on the nose, sitting in the middle of new ships, all sage in color, and inherently full of life.
Similarly, as the local crowd of young 10th Mountain Division maintainers and flyers gathered to see the museum piece–most of the active duty Soldiers had never seen a D-model before—the experienced South Carolina National Guard Soldiers started feeling a little like 368: proud but somewhat old.
This is where the journey started turning from melancholic to a validating, somewhat epic, rite of passage. Curiosity for the museum-like Guard members and machine lasted just a few hours, and seamlessly transitioned into a more appropriate tribute to the legacy of a good ship like Guard Copter 368, and its crewmembers who began to exchange stories, experience, and technical knowledge with the curious 10th Mountain aviators. The flying museum turned into knowledge and experience, with a touch of legacy, making the last portion of the 368’s voyage a beautiful and meaningful experience.
Now with young “793” as a wingman, 368 left Fort Drum, Aug. 18, and flew in formation, over West Point first, on the Hudson River, through Manhattan, around the Statue of Liberty, and finally landed at Summit Aviation to lay to rest next to “226,” a sister CH-47D that used to belong to South Carolina’s Det.1, Co. B 2-238th but its career ended prematurely due to a structural issue.
It is believed that a meaningful flight and a great story deserve a better ending than a slow death by graveyard’s dismantling for its protagonist—368. Upon inspection by the technicians with Summit Aviation, the South Carolina National Guard aviators were told that 368 was not going to die, after all. Because of her pedigree and above average maintenance conditions, 368 was now scheduled to be sold as a fly-worthy aircraft to either a commercial buyer or a foreign military during an auction in the following weeks.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Greg Castles, flight engineer and platoon sergeant with Det.1 2-238th GSAB, summarized the joy and pride of a legacy that will continue, “I am glad to hear she will keep flying somewhere [around the world], because she is a good aircraft and deserves it. She will keep writing pages of flying history, and that is just fantastic.”
Completing the crews for this mission: Chief Warrant Officer 5 Heyward Lindler, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tommy Perry, Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Pressley, Staff Sgt. Richie Jackson, and Spec. Rich Tedder.