Remember When ... Milestones of the Golden Bear
By John M. Lacomia, 60th Air Mobility Wing History Office
/ Published May 19, 2009
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Team Travis takes a lot of pride in the aircraft that it services and flies, but few on base have garnered as much attention as the Lockheed C-141 "Golden Bear."
When the aircraft was delivered to Travis Air Force Base on April 23, 1965, it was the first operational C-141 Starlifter in the Military Air Transport Service, the predecessor to Military Airlift Command and Air Mobility Command. On that day in 1965, Gen. Howell M. Estes Jr., MATS Commander, delivered the aircraft to the 44th Air Transport Squadron of the 1501st Air Transport Wing (predecessor to the 60th Military Airlift Wing.)
It was not long before the Golden Bear was setting records. From May 25 to 31, 1965, it was the first C-141 to cross the Pacific Ocean when it flew from Travis to Yokota Air Base, Japan in nine hours and twenty minutes. The Golden Bear was chosen along with five other C-141s to perform an unusually-heavy flying and landing schedule between June 1, 1965 and November 1, 1968.
This program was called "Lead The Force" and it was designed to help the Air Force and Lockheed identify mechanical problems in the new aircraft model and could design and install correct modifications before the entire fleet could be affected. It was on May 25, 1968, that the Golden Bear touched down once again at Yokota making its 20,000th landing by a C-141 since May 1965.
The Golden Bear would go on to participate in the first large-scale strategic airlift involving C-141s called Operation Blue Light, Aeromedical Evacuation Missions in Southeast Asia, and Operation Deep Freeze. In 1973, the Golden Bear was chosen to aid in the return of Prisoners of War from Southeast Asia during Operation Homecoming.
Though the last operational C-141 would depart Travis on Dec. 16, 1997, the Golden Bear would stay on at the base as a testament of everlasting endurance. On Sept. 16, 2005, the Golden Bear was dedicated as an aircraft display by the men and women of Travis.