YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The last of the C-21 transport planes assigned to Yokota’s 459th Airlift Squadron departed the base in a ceremony on Friday, part of the Air Force’s transformation goal of reducing personnel and saving money.
“It’s a little sad to see them go, but like anything, the Air Force is full of change so we just have to accept it and move on,” said Capt. Chris Garnett, one of the pilots flying the plane to its new home at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
The C-21s, the military version of the Lear Jet 35A business jet, have been assigned to Yokota since January 15, 1985.
They were used to transport senior personnel and cargo and to conduct aeromedical evacuations.
They will be replaced by the C-12, a twin turboprop aircraft, the second of which arrived from Osan Air Base, South Korea, on Friday.
“The C-21 is a nice plane. I’m sad to see it go, but I’m excited to get to experience flying a new plane and to learn all about it,” said 1st Lt. Mike Maughan, the other pilot flying to Scott Air Force Base.
He will return to Yokota after learning how to fly the C-12.
Even though the C-21 has a longer range and is faster than the C-12, Maughan explained the squadron will still carry out the same mission.
“Some of the operating procedures will change, but we will still be able to go to all the locations that we did before, including a few new ones because of the C-12’s capability to land on shorter runways,” he said.
Another benefit of the new planes is that they can carry more than twice as many passengers as the eight-passenger jet, said Lt. Col. Thad Hunkins, the 459th Airlift Squadron commander.
“This plane is going to be a Space-A machine,” he said.
Hunkins said the number of personnel in the squadron would stay about the same, as three C-12 pilots from the 55th Airlift Squadron from Osan will merge with the 459th.
He also noted the seamless transition of the new planes and pilots has kept the unit mission capable during the swap.
“We received planes today and already have a mission for them tonight,” he said. “We are mission-ready on day one.”
Three C-12s, two from Osan and one from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, will replace the four C-21s.
Two already have been delivered to Yokota, while the third is being retrofitted and is scheduled to arrive in October.