2006: The Retirement of a Lifesaving Airlift Plane

May 6, 2006

After making its final flight, the Lockheed C-141C Starlifter strategic airlift plane best known as “Hanoi Taxi” touched down at 9:30 a.m. at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) in Ohio for a formal retirement ceremony there at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force (USAF).

This plane, which was delivered to the USAF in 1967, achieved fame in 1973 during the Vietnam War when it became the first aircraft to bring back to the United States many of those prisoners of war (POWs) whose return had resulted from the diplomatic negotiations known as Operation Homecoming. (One of the POWs who returned home from North Vietnam on that plane was John McCain, a U.S. Navy captain who would serve as a U.S. senator from Arizona from 1987 until his death in 2018.)  The aircraft received its nickname after POWs on board the plane wrote “Hanoi Taxi” on the flight engineer’s panel. 

Hanoi Taxi was eventually transferred to the 445th Airlift Wing at WPAFB. In 2002 — as an official acknowledgement of its historic role nearly three decades earlier during the Vietnam War — the plane was repainted in the same white-over-grey livery that it had at the time of the evacuation mission. 

Hanoi Taxi was exhibited to the public for the first time in 2003 at the Dayton Air Show, and subsequently appeared at a number of similar events over the next three years before being retired. In 2005, Hanoi Taxi performed yet another vital service when it became one of the planes used by the USAF to help evacuate those seeking refuge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Hanoi Taxi and other aircraft collectively and safely transported thousands of those hurricane victims, including hundreds in need of urgent medical care, out of the devastated areas. 

Hanoi Taxi’s significance in major rescue operations was emphasized by USAF Major General Charles D. Metcalf, director of the National Museum of the USAF, during the retirement ceremony for this celebrated plane in 2006. He asserted, “We promise to honor and preserve this aircraft for future generations.” Hanoi Taxi has since remained on display at that museum.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on the Lockheed C-141C Starlifter strategic airlift plane best known as Hanoi Taxi, please check out https://www.daytonlocal.com/news/history/hanoi-taxi-on-display-in-dayton.asp and https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196748/lockheed-c-141c-starlifter-hanoi-taxi/

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