USAF bids farewell to final Combat Coyotes

US Air Force (USAF) personnel assigned to the 711th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) at Duke Field, Florida, bid a fond farewell to the PZL-Mielec C-145A Combat Coyote for the final time after a decade of serving Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

The era of the Combat Coyote came to an end on December 15, 2022, when the last four C-145As departed Duke Field’s flightline to perform a final flight, before landing at the Florida base for the last time. Upon the four-ship’s return, the Combat Coyotes landed in sequence and proceeded in tight formation in a bid to offer a final show of the type to a small group of spectators that were there to witness the aircraft’s retirement.

Commenting on the Combat Coyote’s final flight and retirement on December 15, Maj Kristoffer Williams – the safety chief at the 711th SOS – said: “Today’s flight was a little bittersweet. It’s been a great aircraft to fly, the Wolfhound was good to us while it lasted… We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this airframe. We learned to appreciate it, but it’s time to move on to the next aircraft.”

A trio of C-145As are seen parked on a dirt runway within the vast Eglin Range in Florida on December 15, 2022. The aircraft performed touch-and-goes here as part of the type's final flight. The Combat Coyote fleet was formally withdrawn from operational USAF service later that day.
A trio of C-145As are seen parked on a dirt runway within the vast Eglin Range in Florida on December 15, 2022. The aircraft performed touch-and-goes here as part of the type's final flight. The Combat Coyote fleet was formally withdrawn from operational USAF service later that day. USAF/Senior Airman Dylan Gentile

Chief Master Sgt Bobby Barton (Ret’d) – the former senior enlisted leader of the 919th Special Operations Group at Duke Field – added: “There weren’t many other aircraft in the Air Force like [the C-145A]. These guys loved this airplane, it really stood out from the crowd.”

While the Combat Coyote entered operational USAF service in June 2009, with 17 examples delivered to the air arm in total, the 919th Special Operations Wing (SOW) at Duke Field – the parent wing of the 711th SOS – did not start operating the type until 2012. Under the charge of the 919th SOW, combat aviation advisors from the 711th used the C-145A to maintain proficiency before instructing aircrews from partner nations on a variety of advanced tactics. Meanwhile, instructors from the 711th’s sister unit at Duke Field – the 5th SOS Detachment 1 – trained USAF pilots on the type on behalf of AFSOC.

While the C-145A has not been employed on overseas deployments in recent years, the platform – which is based on Poland-based PZL-Mielec’s M-28-05 Skytruck but was delivered to the USAF by US-based Sierra Nevada Corporation – provided a tactical mobility advantage to downrange missions when they were initially purchased by the air arm. Given its robust, short take-off and landing (STOL) design, the Combat Coyote was capable of operating from rural areas and undeveloped airfields, enabling it to deliver cargo and special operations troops to forward operating bases in austere environments.

The 919th SOW was the sole remaining operator of the C-145A in USAF service, with the type having now been officially retired from operational use. While the wing is expecting to transition to a new platform, it currently remains unclear as to which aircraft that will be. “The only constant in the Air Force is change. The people that flew the C-145 enjoyed it. It was a nice aircraft to have for a while, but I’m looking forward to the next one,” Barton concluded.

The four C-145As involved in the type's final flight in USAF service on December 15, 2022, taxi back to the flightline at Duke Field shortly after arriving back at the Florida base for the final time.
The four C-145As involved in the type's final flight in USAF service on December 15, 2022, taxi back to the flightline at Duke Field shortly after arriving back at the Florida base for the final time. USAF/Senior Airman Dylan Gentile

The withdrawal of the USAF’s Combat Coyote fleet has been in effect for quite some time, given that the first example to be formally retired from operations was delivered to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona on May 28, 2015. By August 28, that year, nine C-145As had been divested and stored at the facility. A further two examples were transferred to the Arizona Department of Public Security on June 18, 2015, meaning that 11 aircraft in total were withdrawn from USAF use that year.

Several of the nine aircraft still stored with the 309th AMARG at Davis-Monthan have found a second lease-of-life after being offered to other global operators under the US Excess Defense Articles (EDA) programme. A pair of C-145As were offered to Estonia in 2016 and were subsequently overhauled in Centennial, Colorado, before being delivered to the Estonian Air Force in March and June 2019, respectively.

Also in 2016, the US government offered three Combat Coyotes to Kenya. Crews from the Kenyan Air Force started their training on the type at Hurlburt Field, Florida, from September 2019 and the first aircraft entered operational service with the African air arm on April 20, 2021, followed by the second on June 30, that year. It is unclear whether or not the Kenyan Air Force has received its third and final C-145A. The US government also offered two Combat Coyotes to both Costa Rica’s Air Surveillance Service and Nepal’s Army Air Service in 2016, however it is unclear whether or not these aircraft will be delivered to these respective second-hand customers.