The Final Flight of the Condor

  • Published
  • By Mr. Sean Cowher
  • 147th Attack Wing

“Today we close the book on an airframe that has had a long and storied career here at Ellington Field,” said Col. Travis Walters, 147th Attack Wing Commander. “When the RC-26 program was stood up back in 1991, the very first airframe was delivered right here in front of the 147th Operations Group building with the 111th Ace-in-the-hole as a backdrop. So, it is fitting that we retire it from the same location.”

Over the years, the RC-26 Condor has been involved in many important missions, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its role in these conflicts has been crucial, providing critical support to troops on the ground and helping ensure their safety. Its contributions to these missions have not gone unnoticed as it has earned a reputation as one of the most capable and reliable aircraft in the U.S. military.

The 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, Fighter Wing, Reconnaissance Wing, and Attack Wing have seen over 100 qualified aviators come through the RC-26 program with immeasurable and celebrated success. Primarily assigned to the then up-and-coming Counter Drug Program, this airframe has been responsible for annually taking tens of millions of dollars’ worth of illicit narcotics off the street for over 30 years.  This success peaked in 2018 when the RC-26, working with the FBI, uncovered an illicit drug trafficking operation from California to Dallas resulting in over $169 million of drugs being seized.

Additionally, the RC-26 was called upon in times of crisis like the Haitian Earthquake, the Deepwater Horizon Explosion, and Hurricanes Ike, Katrina, and Harvey to get critical information in the hands of first responders and all levels of leadership.

“This aircraft is kind of like a chameleon,” said Major Luis Flores, RC-26 Pilot. “It could morph in to just about anything you could imagine, as far as hurricane support, counter-drug, the border or wildfire support. It was like a Swiss Air National Guard Knife.”

Over the last four years, the RC-26 and its dedicated airmen assigned to the program were trusted to defend our nation’s Southern border.  During this time, they were responsible for over 2,400 arrests, and nearly $10 million in drug seizures. This success culminated in being awarded the 2019 Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons.

The sunset of the Air National Guard’s RC-26 program marks the end of an era in military aviation. However, it serves as a reminder of the contributions made by this aircraft to our country’s national security and to the critical role that intelligence gathering plays in keeping our nation safe. The men and women who have served in the RC-26 program have made a significant impact on our military’s capabilities, and their legacy will be remembered for years to come.