U.S. Air Force To Retires Its First EC-130H ‘Compass Call’ Aircraft After 37 Years

U.S. Air Force To Retires Its First EC-130H 'Compass Call' Aircraft After 37 Years
Members of the 55th Electronic Combat Group stand in formation during the final flight of an EC-130H Compass Call at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christina Rios)

The EC-130H Compass Call is an electronic attack aircraft flown by the United States Air Force. Based on the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, the aircraft is heavily modified to disrupt enemy command and control communications, perform offensive counterinformation operations, and carry out other kinds of electronic attacks. Planned upgrades will add the ability to attack early warning and acquisition radars.

On March 19, 1982, the first specially modified EC-130H “Compass Call” aircraft, tail number 1587, arrived at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. On Jan. 15, 2020, the aircraft made its final flight over the skies of Arizona.

The Compass Call aircraft is an airborne tactical weapon system used to disrupt enemy command and control communications and limit adversary coordination essential for enemy force management.

The EC-130H aircraft carries a combat crew of 13 people. Four members are responsible for aircraft flight and navigation (aircraft commander, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer), while nine members operate and employ the EA mission equipment permanently integrated in the cargo/mission compartment. The mission crew includes the mission crew commander (electronic warfare officer), weapon system officer (electronic warfare officer), mission crew supervisor (an experienced cryptologic linguist), four analysis operators (linguists), one acquisition operator and an airborne maintenance technician.

As explained by Staff Sgt. Betty R. Chevalier, 355th Wing Public Affairs, in the article Compass Call: Compass Call: The first’s final flight, the aircraft, assigned to the 55th Electronic Group, supported various missions over its 37 years including, but not limited to, Operations Inherent Resolve, Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm.

“The retirement of aircraft 73-01587 is a historic event for the U.S. Air Force and a proud moment for the EC-130H COMPASS CALL program,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Phil Acquaro, 55th ECG commander. “In March 1982, “Kermit” entered USAF’s ranks as the first aircraft modified into an airborne electronic attack platform to answer the nation’s call to enhance the defense of American and allied interests in Europe. Its service culminated in close to 29,000 flight hours, almost 11,000 of which have been in direct support of combat operations.”

The 55th ECG, a geographically separated unit from Offutt AFB, Nebraska, is the only Compass Call unit in the Air Force and the services the longest continuously deployed unit since 2001.

“We have been supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom Sentinel since they began and the unit as a whole had a rotation out since, minus September through December 2002; that was the last time the 55 ECG has been able to celebrate the holidays as a whole,” said Master Sgt. Michael Meredith, 755th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent.

This may be the end of A1587s flying career, but the aircraft will continue to represent the 55th ECG as it is scheduled to be modified into a static aircraft, placed in front of the ECG campus.

“Aircraft 1587’s legacy was derived from the blood, sweat and tears of the thousands of Americans that designed, built, maintained and flew this aircraft for the last 37 years,” said Acquaro. “Over the years, the nickname has changed from Kermit to Reaper. This respected aircraft has been through numerous modifications to keep pace with evolving technology and satiate new mission requirements by combatant commanders. Reaper has delivered precise electronic fires to disrupt our adversary’s command and control networks and save lives of American and coalition forces around the world. It has served with distinction and it is a proud day as we salute its last flight.”

While the EC-130H fleet reaches the end of its lifespan, the EC-37B Compass Call is slated to start replacing the fleet to keep the mission alive and jamming our adversary’s communications.

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