News Release, Naval Air Systems Command Public Affairs
NAS Pax River, MD- A noteworthy chapter of Naval test flight came to an end last month at Naval Air Station Patuxent River when C-2A Greyhound BuNo 162142 made its final flight, taking to the air with a crew of veterans who had flown the aircraft countless times over its nearly 30-year career with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20.
“I’m on my third tour with VX-20, and 142 has been here the whole time as a test article on many projects,” said Cmdr. Matthew “Cupcake” Tharp, VX-20’s commanding officer. “It really stuck around for the last couple of years for Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System and Advanced Arresting Gear testing. On top of that, we’ve used it as a workhorse. We’ve hauled gear from Pax River to Point Mugu and back, and everywhere in between to support our missions. It’s one of those airplanes that you can just count on. When we needed it, it came through for us.”
“I’ll say this, it likes to fly,” Tharp added. “When you let it sit, it gets grouchy and doesn’t want to come out. But once you let it fly, that airplane just keeps going.”
Delivered to the Navy in 1985 as the third of 39 “re-procured” C-2A Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) aircraft, 142 arrived at NAS Patuxent River in 1992 for what was originally planned to be an 18-month flight simulator program — and it never left. Instead, the Navy kept finding more test programs for it to participate in: improved propellers, modern avionics, single-engine performance, improved pitot probes, GPS and TCAS systems, better brakes, and even improved seals for the aircraft’s rear ramp. As a result, 142 left its mark on a significant number of landmark VX-20 flight test programs over the last 27-plus years.
“We’ve never given her a name per se, but whenever we talk about her we usually call her ‘The Old Gal,’” said Al Griffin, a long-time C-2 flight crew who joined VX-20 around the same time as 142. “I probably have more flight time in that airplane than anyone else — but I could never prove that!”
Griffin and colleague Jim Fortini were part of the crew on 142’s final flight, which took place in the last few days before the shutdowns and restrictions began to be imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The whole COVID-19 situation probably added a little bit of drama as to whether we were going to get to have the planned final flight,” Griffin said. “But we were able to fly, and it was just such a nice way to wrap up the plane’s long career, both at the squadron and with the Navy.”
“It was such an honor to be able to fly that last flight with the people that I worked with for so long,” Fortini said. “And while you’re flying, you realize that soon, this plane is no longer going to be around every day. You know that you are the last ones to fly this airplane.”
Griffin and Fortini said that over the years, the close-knit C-2A community has become like a second family to them.
“They took me under their wing and we went through project after project together,” Fortini said. “I have never had this connection with a group of people that’s so close and so much like a family. It’s, it’s different from any other platform that I’ve ever worked for.”
VX-20 C-2A test pilots and project officers Lt. Paul “Digger” Deluca and Lt. Cmdr. Eric “Turbo” Thurber flew 142 on its final flight, which included flying formation with a C-130 for some “glamor shots” of the aircraft, a flyover of the VX-20 hangar, and several touch-and-go approaches — as well as an ascent to 34,500 feet, which the crew believed might be an unofficial altitude record for the C-2A.
“It did have its quirks,” Deluca said of 142, though with fondness. “I thought the handling was a little more sluggish than a normal COD, but it’s like an old car. You just have to take care of it and it will run forever.”
To emphasize the point, Deluca said that on its last detachment to the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78), 142 performed valiantly despite a grueling test schedule. “Eric and I flew for something like 11 straight days and did around 40 catapults, 40 traps, and maybe 50 touch-and-goes, and I don’t think we wrote up a single maintenance gripe on the aircraft during that time,” Deluca said.
Thurber agreed. “It ended up being the most reliable plane we had on the detachment,” Thurber said. “The only thing that we replaced on it were tires.”
During the Ford detachment, in addition to flying test launches and landings, the aircraft was called in several time to perform logistics runs for parts for other aircraft. “It turned into a running joke that we were testing the future of naval aviation with the Ford, and here was the least advanced aircraft of the detachment helping to bring everyone across the finish line,” Thurber said.
When the flight was over and 142 touched down for the final time, some more treats awaited it. One was a water-cannon arch courtesy of the NAS Patuxent River Fire Department, which 142 taxied through to the applause of squadron and base personnel who had gathered to congratulate her on a job well done. The other big treat was that guest of honor Dave Seeman, a retired Grumman test pilot who was the command pilot for the first Greyhound flight in 1964, was present to welcome her home.
Seeman, who earned his wings in 1949 through the Aviation Midshipman program — the same program through which astronauts Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell earned their wings too — said that it was a special moment for him, and he was glad he could be there to share it with the C-2A community.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Seeman said.
Thurber said that after 142 landed, Seeman came up to him and shook his hand — and, laughingly, apologized to him for the plane’s handling characteristics.
“I’m so sorry!” Seeman jokingly told him. “We knew that thing was going to be a pig from day one!”
The retirement of 142 is a precursor to the retirement of the C-2A from the COD role that the Greyhound has performed for the Navy’s carrier fleet since the mid-1960s. This summer, Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron (VRM) 30 “Titans,” based on the West Coast, will take possession of its first CMV-22B, which will eventually replace the C-2A as the Fleet’s new COD aircraft. In FY2022, a new East Coast COD squadron and a training squadron will also be established around CMV-22s.
Over the next several months, VX-20’s maintenance team will prepare 142 for transfer to the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, where it will spend its well-earned retirement on display to be enjoyed by visitors of all ages. Seeman said he plans to be there to greet them when they do.
“I’m a little gentle these days after two hip replacements, but I’m at the museum as often as I can be,” Seeman said. “I’m on the exhibit committee, and of course I’ve flown at least seven of the airplanes we have on display. So I have a lot to talk about!”