TAC Air-LIT Hosts Military Planes Fleeing Storm
Dozens of military planes fleeing storm stop in, near Little Rock
by Noel Oman | October 10, 2018, 4:30 a.m.
The small orange-and-white, single-engine, two-seat aircraft began arriving in Little Rock one by one shortly after noon Tuesday, among the earliest evacuees of Hurricane Michael. More of the planes arrived later in pairs, breaking formation above Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field and landing one behind the other. By Tuesday evening, about 50 of the U.S. Navy turboprop trainers were to arrive at Clinton National from Naval Air Station Whiting Field on the Florida Gulf Coast, an area expected to bear the brunt of the coming storm.
"We expect to have a full house," Ron Mathieu, executive director of Arkansas' largest airport, said Tuesday.
Danny York, line manager for TAC Air at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field, checks on a line of T-6 Texan II aircraft Tuesday at the airport. About 50 of the U.S. Navy primary trainers were expected to arrive from Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Florida as Hurricane Michael neared the coast. -Photo by Staton Breidenthal
"The combination of our location and infrastructure makes Little Rock AFB an ideal evacuation point for 1 SOW aircraft," Rininger said. Evacuations during hurricane season are not unusual for the military's multimillion-dollar assets along the Gulf Coast and the military aviators stationed there. The Navy trainer planes are T-6 Texan IIs and cost $7 million apiece. A standard C-130J, the latest model of C-130s, costs about $62 million. A gunship approaches $200 million.
At Clinton National, planning for the Florida planes began Sunday as Charlie Jones, the airport's operations director, monitored the tropical depression off the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico that later developed into Hurricane Michael. Throughout the day, Hurricane Michael strengthened, growing by evening to a Category 3 hurricane, with wind speeds of 120 mph. It is forecast to make landfall midday today. In its path are military airfields scattered along the Gulf Coast, including Naval Air Station Whiting Field, home of the T-6s, and Hurlbert Field. The A-10s and two of the C-130s are from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia near the Florida border.
"It's a good cross-country stop for them," said Kip Simanek, general manager of TAC Air operations at Clinton National. "It's a tribute to the city's hospitality."
TAC Air is a general-aviation service center that usually caters to business jets and other private aircraft. The company, on the west side of the airport near the general-aviation runway, provides refueling services and a place for crews to rest.
"They always seem to have a good time here in Little Rock and enjoy the city," Simanek said of the training aviators. "They talk about it a lot. The people at the hotels they stay at always seem to enjoy their company while they're there. It seems like a good relationship."
Several military aviators were in the TAC Air facility Tuesday waiting for rental cars or shuttles to hotels. They declined to comment and referred questions to the public affairs office at Whiting Field, where no one could be reached Tuesday afternoon.
The TAC Air personnel had a busy afternoon on Taxiway Poppa helping park the trainer planes, refueling them and making arrangements for payment for the fuel.
"We do put in some overtime to take care of them because it's what I call an IROP, an irregular operation that happens away from what our normal business is," Simanek said. "But the guys and gals I have working for me enjoy providing the support. Everybody is happy to do it. It's kind of a morale booster."
The evacuees also provide an economic boost when they stay in Little Rock, which this time will likely be through Thursday or Friday. "It's good for us, it's good for Little Rock because they're staying at the hotels, they're eating at the restaurants and everything else," Mathieu said.