Family Ties: Three Generations Contribute to Hercules Legacy

If the walls of our Marietta, Georgia, facility could talk, they’d sure have a lot to say.

From the first B-29 to roll-out of Aircraft Plant 6 in 1942 when it was a Bell Bomber facility to the C-130J that now fills much of the factory floor, the Marietta team has seen, built and delivered many of the world’s most iconic aircraft that have and continue to make history.

Over the years, thousands of Georgians have worked on the C-130 line, which is history’s longest continuously active military aircraft production line. The C-130 is the lifeblood of the company and was a major force in growing Marietta from a sleepy farm town to a major metro Atlanta area. The C-130 also plays into the legacy of many Marietta natives, like the Gunter family.

Kim Gunter, a C-130 production manager in Mid-Fuselage, has worked at the Marietta facility for more than 30 years – mainly on the C-130 – as did his father, Ray, and brother, Mike. Together, they’ve cumulatively amassed nearly 100 years at the Marietta factory working on the very first C-130A in 1954 to the 2,500th today.  

When Gunter first saw the milestone 2,500th C-130 on the final production line, he immediately thought of — and called — his father, who has the distinction of helping build the first production Hercules.

 “I said, ‘Dad you won’t believe what I’m doing right now … I’m looking at the 2500th C-130.’ And he said, ‘It’s raised us,’” Gunter said. “My dad raised three kids on the C-130, my brother raised a son, and I’ve raised two sons because of that program.”

This story rings true for many Lockheed Martin employees, and many tell tales of the line just as the Gunters do when they all get together.

“My dad would tell us about when we first started selling C-130s, and a customer was curious if they could get horses on the C-130,” he recalled. “One of my Dad’s supervisors had horses, so they rode up in a horse trolley and he got off on the horse and showed them they could get a horse on the C-130.”

Between 1982 and 1987, all three Gunter men worked the C-130 line in varying capacities.

There are few things that stay the same anymore and the C-130 is no exception. When asked about the changes he’s seen over the years, Gunter said that building the C-130J is remarkably different from building the original Hercules, from a capabilities and technology standpoint.

However, Gunter notes that while the C-130J may be the most advanced Hercules, its core tenants — versatility, reliability and capability — remain just as valid today for its operators as the first C-130A that his father helped build.

The C-130 isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the time that the Gunters began working in Marietta. The site itself has evolved and changed dramatically as well.

“In the early 1980s, we had wood floors and the walls were painted green. It was dusky. Around 1990 the floors were replaced and the [production] line was redone. This really improved the outlook of the workforce,” Gunter said. “It makes me proud to bring my family and friends here to see what a clean manufacturing line we have here. “

One of the constants in Gunter’s opinion is the people who build the C-130 and work in Marietta.

“It’s just kind of like a family around here,” he said. “Even with my brother retired, people still ask about him. But, people come and go. New faces come in every day and it’s a privilege to show them how we build a C-130. They even have great ideas to share about how we can do it better, of which I’m always appreciative.”

Gunter said he plans to retire in 2021, but he does have a stretch goal prior to that date: to fly in a C-130. His father has flown in one as has his brother. Gunter, thankfully, has a few years to make this dream a reality.

“In 1982 I joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, went through boot camp and was in infantry, but never had the opportunity to fly in a KC-130. I was always in helicopters,” Gunter said. “I begged to fly in a C-130, but my unit was designed as a helicopter unit, so it never happened. It has always been my dream, though.”

When Kim Gunter walks through the doors of the Marietta factory for the last time in 2021 as he retires, the doors will close on the Gunter’s legacy with the Hercules. He’s the last one to work on the C-130 line.

“There’s always been a Gunter working on the C-130,” he said. “My only goal is to beat my dad in seniority. I have 34 years now. He had 36.”

Nothing like a little friendly family competition!

June 29, 2015

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