If you looked in the skies overhead at Fort Meade on Sept. 12 at around 1:45 p.m., you might have spotted something much larger than the normal aircraft that flies over the installation — and closer, too.
For the second time in 10 years, a C-130 Hercules landed at Tipton Airport.
An EC-130H, tail number 65-1592 — the U.S. Air Force’s oldest of its kind and recently decommissioned after 53 years of service — flew into Tipton on its last flight.
The plane flew in from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and will now take its place as a centerpiece of the new National Vigilance Park and the National Cryptologic Museum.
The EC-130H aircraft is a modified version of the Air Force’s venerable C-130 Hercules. It’s an electronic reconnaissance and attack aircraft modified to disrupt enemy command-and-control communications, and perform counter-information operations and other types of electronic attack.
“It’s an aircraft that’s been doing good work for the United States and U.S. Air Force,” said Patrick Weadon, National Cryptologic Museum curator. “It’s actually performed missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not something that’s been sitting in the boneyard.
“It’s been doing actual missions — and that makes it all the more special.”
The EC-130H will now serve as a symbol and memorial, said Weadon.
“The plane is meant to memorialize the shoot-down of a similar aircraft over Soviet Armenia in 1958,” he said. “It symbolizes the service and sacrifice of those who served in the aerial reconnaissance program during the Cold War, and actually for anybody that goes off on dangerous but important aerial reconnaissance missions in this day and time.”
But you won’t be able to view the plane just yet, said Weadon.
“The plane is going to replace the original C-130 and again, it’s going to take its place in the newly configured National Vigilance Park, which will come to fruition some time in the future,” Weadon said.
“It’s going to be part of the new Cyber Center for Excellence and Innovation, which will be located very close to the present National Cryptologic Museum.”
The National Vigilance Park is closed at the moment as construction continues on the new National Security Agency visitor control center.
NSA said the park will be re-established near the National Cryptologic Museum in the near future. No firm date has been announced.
Meanwhile, for Weadon, the plane is like living history.
“It’s a great day,” he said. “This is the second time that a C-130 has flown in this facility [Tipton Airport] since it [became] a civilian airport, I believe,” he said.
“And again, I was here on the day the first C-130 flew in. So this is like history coming alive again.”