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Hercules Commander

October 19, 2007—Retirement means different things to different people. For recently retired John Boris, Coast Guard pilot and C130 flight instructor, it means continuing doing what he loves but for a different branch of the service.

Coast Guard Pilot

John Boris '84

After graduating IUP in 1984 with a degree in Criminology, Boris joined the Baltimore Police Department. While there, he was offered an airplane ride from an ex-Vietnam pilot. Bitten by the flying bug, Boris began looking for a job where he could fly for business. “I saw what the Coast Guard had to offer, such as counter-drug operations in the Caribbean, and knew that’s where I wanted to go,” he said. “It was interesting and exciting. If I could fly and still use my law enforcement background, that would be the best of both worlds.”

Boris attended Officer Candidate School, and after receiving his commission in 1987 was assigned to Coast Guard Group Charleston in South Carolina, serving as Officer in Charge of the Law Enforcement Detachment. After successfully harassing drug runners in the Caribbean, he received his Naval Aviator designation in 1991. For the next four years, he was based in Elizabeth City, N.C., as commander of a C-130H Hercules aircraft.

“The C-130 is really the workhorse aircraft for anywhere in the nation,” said Boris. “Among other things, it’s used for search and rescue, surveillance, counter-drug ops, and hauling cargo, such as shuttling helicopters to South America, for example.”

Weathering Many Storms

C-130

The C-130J Super Hercules is the newest version and the only model still produced. Its features include digital avionics (a computer-operated “all-glass” cockpit that includes head-up displays for each pilot), reduced crew requirements over the H model (three crew members instead of seven), six blades on each engine instead of four, and a third more horsepower.

During the 1991 Halloween nor’easter, also known as the “Perfect Storm,” Boris was involved in a rescue attempt of a solo Japanese sailor 250 miles southeast of Long Island. The sailboat had set off its emergency beacon but was too far out for the Coast Guard helicopters, which did not have the capacity to refuel en route. Only a National Guard H-60 helicopter, which could be refueled in flight, was able to make the journey. In advance of the helicopter’s arrival, Boris’s plane flew out to locate the boat and guide rescuers. While waiting, he watched the sailboat roll through sixty- to eighty-foot seas and saw it nearly capsize at least once.

When the H-60 arrived on the scene, its crew found the wind and rough waves made any rescue attempt too dangerous. Eventually, with the aircraft at minimal fuel, they were forced to leave the boat and its passenger, planning to return in the morning when seas and sky hopefully had calmed.

Boris learned later that the helicopter was unable to refuel because of hundred-mile-an-hour winds and went down seventy miles from land. One of the five crewmen was never found, but the others were rescued after six hours by a Coast Guard cutter. The next day, a freighter was able to retrieve the sailor from the boat. The sailboat was lost.

C-130

The Lockheed C-130 family has participated in military, civilian, and humanitarian aid operations for more than fifty years and has the longest continuous production run of any military aircraft in history. Originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation, and cargo transport aircraft, the versatile C-130 has found uses as a gunship and in airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, and aerial firefighting.

In 1995, Boris was promoted to C-130H Instructor Pilot and transferred to Kodiak, Alaska, where he continued his combination flying, instructing, and search and rescue operations. “It was beautiful, but the weather was brutal at times and put our piloting skills to the test,” said Boris. “I was thrilled to be in the air rather than in the crabbing boats below.”

Boris’s leadership and flying skills resulted in his being sent back to Elizabeth City and appointed as head of the standardization team overseeing all Coast Guard C-130H training. Later, he assumed the duties of executive officer of the C-130J Aircraft Project Office in May 2003 and was in charge of initial operational implementation of the Coast Guard’s premier long-range surveillance aircraft. 

Katrina Strikes

When Hurricane Katrina ripped ashore in August 2005 Boris’s unit responded while the storm was still making landfall. The C-130Js hauled in food, water, gas-operated pumps (many areas had no electricity), personnel, and equipment such as small boats to help rescuers get through the water.

“We were one of the first C-130s in the area. We had to skirt around the hurricane before finding a place to land,” Boris said. “That whole place was underwater, just devastated. It was an incredible sight.”

The two aircraft in the unit hauled over a third of everything that the Coast Guard brought into the stricken areas. With an augmented crew of five (the C-130J normally requires a crew of three), the planes flew in and out of New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., for two weeks. Each day, the aircraft lifted off from Clearwater, Fla., flew to Alexandria, La., to pick up supplies, dropped the supplies off in New Orleans or Mobile, and traveled back to Alexandria. After three or four such runs, the crew returned to Clearwater at the end of each fifteen- to eighteen-hour day.

One trip didn’t end with their returning to Florida. On takeoff from New Orleans, the plane hit eleven birds, one of which went through the number-three engine. Stranded for the night, the crew was able to find room in a New Orleans hotel along with numerous refugees from the storm. “People were everywhere, in the halls and lobby, sleeping wherever they could. There were maybe forty people in the lobby with whatever they were able to pack in their cars,” said Boris. “There were lots of kids and babies, and people were very distraught.”

That night, Boris heard sobbing outside his room and opened his door to find a woman sitting in the hall. She feared that her home and possessions were lost to the storm surge. He asked where she lived. “When she described the area, I told her I fly over that neighborhood every day,” said Boris. He knew that the older part of the neighborhood was flooded, but the newer section, where the woman said she lived, was mostly above water. “I told her that, and said she might still have a house there. She was ecstatic and hugged me. Even though there was no guarantee that her house was safe, just the possibility brought a smile back to her face.”

Boris is one of only a handful of Coast Guard commanders who flew the C-130 his entire career. His service resulted in the award of the Meritorious Service Medal, the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, and two awards of the Coast Guard Achievement Medal.

Boris getting hosed down, a Coast Guard tradition following a pilot's final flight.

Boris getting hosed down, a Coast Guard tradition following a pilot’s final flight.

He now lives in Cabot, Ark., with his wife, Julia, and their three sons. At the Little Rock Air Force Base, Boris continues to train C-130 pilots from different branches of the service, even though he has had offers to fly from several airlines. “Sometimes you have to pass the torch, and let the next guy take what you learned,” said Boris. “I’m proud that I was able to set and meet my goals and was able to remain flying.”

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