The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is an American four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft built by Lockheed. It is the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. Over 40 models and variants of the Hercules serve with more than 50 nations. In December 2006 the C-130 became the fifth aircraft—after the English Electric Canberra, B-52 Stratofortress, Tupolev Tu-95, and KC-135 Stratotanker—to mark 50 years of continuous use with its original primary customer, in this case the United States Air Force. The C-130 remains in production as the updated C-130J Super Hercules.
Capable of takeoffs and landings from unprepared runways, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation, and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile airframe has found uses in a variety of other roles, including as a gunship, for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling and aerial firefighting. The Hercules family has the longest continuous production run of any military aircraft in history. During more than 50 years of service the family has participated in military, civilian and humanitarian aid operations.
The Korean War, which began in June, 1950, showed that World War II-era transports—C-119 Flying Boxcars, C-47 Skytrains and C-46 Commandos—were inadequate for modern warfare. Thus on February 2, 1951, the United States Air Force issued a General Operating Requirement (GOR) for a new transport to Boeing, Douglas, Fairchild, Lockheed, Martin, Chase Aircraft, North American Northrop, and Airlifts Inc. The new transport would have a capacity for 92 passengers, 72 combat troops or 64 paratroopers, a range of , takeoff capability from short and unprepared strips, and the ability to fly with one engine shut down.
Fairchild, North American, Martin and Northrop declined to participate. The remaining five companies tendered a total of ten designs: Lockheed two, Boeing one, Chase three, Douglas three, Airlifts Inc. one. The contest was a close affair between the lighter of the two Lockheed (preliminary project designation L-206) proposals and a four-turboprop Douglas design.
The Lockheed design team was led by Willis Hawkins, starting with a 130 page proposal for the Lockheed L-206, and another two-turboprop and heavier one. Hall Hibbard, Lockheed vice president and chief engineer, saw the proposal and directed it to Kelly Johnson, who remarked when he saw the proposal, "If you sign that letter, you will destroy the Lockheed Company." Both Hibbard and Johnson signed the proposal and the company won the contract for the now-designated Model 82 on July 2, 1951.
After the two prototypes were completed, production began in Marietta, Georgia, where more than 2,000 C-130s have been built.
The initial production model, the C-130A, was powered by Allison T56-A-9 turboprops with three-blade propellers. Deliveries began in December 1956, continuing until the introduction of the C-130B model in 1959. Some A models were re-designated C-130D after being equipped with skis. The newer C-130B had ailerons with increased boost — 3,000 versus 2,050 lbf/in² (21 versus 14 MPa) — as well as uprated engines and four-bladed propellers that were standard until the "J" model's introduction.
The KC-130 tankers, originally C-130Fs procured for the US Marine Corps (USMC) in 1958 (under the designation GV-1) are equipped with a removable 13,626 liter (3600 US gallon) stainless steel fuel tank carried inside the cargo compartment. The two wing-mounted hose and drogue aerial refueling pods each transfer up to 19 liters per second (equivalent to 300 US gallons per minute) to two aircraft simultaneously, allowing for rapid cycle times of multiple-receiver aircraft formations, (a typical tanker formation of four aircraft in less than 30 minutes). The US Navy's C-130G has increased structural strength allowing higher gross weight operation.
The C-130H model has updated Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, a redesigned outer wing, updated avionics and other minor improvements. Later H models had a new, fatigue-life-improved, center wing that was retro-fitted to many earlier H-models. The H model remains in widespread use with the US Air Force (USAF) and many foreign air forces. Initial deliveries began in 1964 (to the RNZAF), remaining in production until 1996. An improved C-130H was introduced in 1974.
From 1992 to 1996 the C-130H was described as a C-130H3 by the USAF. The 3 denoting the third variation in design for the H series. Improvements included a partial glass cockpit (ADI and HSI instruments), a more capable APN-241 color radar, night vision device compatible instrument lighting and an improved electrical system using Bus Switching Units to provide 'clean' power to the more sensitive upgraded components.
The equivalent model for export to the UK is the C-130K, known by the Royal Air Force (RAF) as the Hercules C.1. The C-130H-30 (Hercules C.3 in RAF service) is a stretched version of the original Hercules, achieved by inserting a 100-inch (2.54 m) plug aft of the cockpit and an 80-inch (2.03 m) plug at the rear of the fuselage. A single C-130K was purchased by the Met Office for use by its Meteorological Research Flight. This aircraft was heavily modified (with its most prominent feature being the long red and white striped atmospheric probe on the nose) to the extent that it was given the designation W.2, to differentiate it from the ordinary C.1. This aircraft, named Snoopy, was withdrawn in 2001. The C-130K is used by the RAF Falcons for parachute drops. Three C-130K (Hercules C Mk.1P) were upgraded and sold to the Austrian Air Force in 2002.
The HC-130N & P are long range search and rescue variants used by the USAF, to include the Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard. Equipped for deep deployment of pararescue men (PJs), survival equipment, and aerial refueling of combat rescue helicopters, HC-130s are usually the on-scene command aircraft for combat SAR missions. Early versions were equipped with the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system, designed to pull a person off the ground using a wire strung from a helium balloon. The John Wayne movie The Green Berets features its use. The Fulton system was later removed when aerial refueling of helicopters proved safer and more versatile. The movie The Perfect Storm depicts a real life SAR mission involving aerial refueling of a New York Air National Guard HH-60G by an Air National Guard HC-130P.
The C-130R and C-130T are US Navy and USMC models, both equipped with underwing external fuel tanks. The C-130T is similar, but has numerous avionics improvements over the R model and is fully night-vision system compatible. In both models, USMC aircraft are equipped with Allison T-56-A-16 engines. The USMC versions are designated KC-130R or KC-130T when equipped with underwing refueling pods and pylons.
The Lockheed L-100 (L-382) is a civilian variant, equivalent to a C-130E model without pylon tanks or military equipment. The L-100 also has 2 stretched versions: the L-100-20 has an 8.3 ft (2.5 m) fuselage stretch and the L-100-30 is stretched by 15 ft (4.6 m). The L-100 has not seen widespread use in the civilian market.
The C-130J is the newest version of the Hercules and the only model still produced. Externally similar to the classic Hercules in general appearance, the J model has new turboprop engines, six-bladed propellors, digital avionics, and other new systems.
The Hercules holds the record for the largest and heaviest aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier. In October and November 1963, a USMC KC-130F (BuNo 149798), bailed to the US Naval Air Test Center, made 21 unarrested landings and take-offs on the USS Forrestal at a number of different weights. The pilot, LT (later RADM) James Flatley III, USN, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his participation. The tests were highly successful, but the idea was considered too risky for routine "Carrier Onboard Delivery" (COD) operations. Instead, the C-2 Greyhound was developed as a dedicated COD aircraft. (The Hercules used in the test, most recently in service with Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 352 (VMGR-352) until 2005, is now part of the collection of the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, Florida.)
While the C-130 is involved in cargo and resupply operations daily, it has been a part of some notable offensive operations:
The AC-130 also holds the record for the longest sustained flight by a C-130. From 22 October to 24 October 1997, two AC-130U gunships flew 36.0 hours nonstop from Hurlburt Field Florida to Taegu (Daegu) South Korea while being refueled 7 times by KC-135 tanker aircraft. This record flight shattered the previous record longest flight by over 10 hours while the 2 gunships took on 410,000 lbs of fuel. With the exception of 'Eldorado Canyon' the U.S. raid on Libya, the gunship has been used in every U.S. combat operation since Vietnam.
The MC-130 Combat Talon variant carries and deploys what are currently the world's largest conventional bombs, the BLU-82 "Daisy Cutter" and GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, also known as the MOAB. Daisy Cutters were used during the Vietnam War to clear landing zones for helicopters and to eliminate minefields and have recently even been proposed for anti-personnel use. The weight and size of the weapons make it impossible or impractical to load them on conventional bombers. The GBU-43/B MOAB is a successor to the BLU-82 and can perform the same function, as well as perform strike functions against hardened targets in a low air threat environment.
In the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the Pakistan Air Force modified/improvised several aircraft for use as heavy bombers, and attacks were made on enemy bridges and troop concentrations with some notable successes. No aircraft were lost in the operations, though one was slightly damaged.
It was also used in the 1976 Entebbe raid in which Israeli commando forces carried a surprise assault to rescue 103 passengers of an airliner hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists at Entebbe Airport, Uganda. The rescue force — 200 soldiers, jeeps, and a black Mercedes-Benz (intended to resemble Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin's vehicle of state) — was flown from Israel to Entebbe by five Israeli Air Force (IAF) Hercules aircraft without mid-air refueling (on the way back, the planes refueled in Nairobi, Kenya).
During the Falklands War of 1982, Argentine Air Force C-130s undertook highly dangerous, daily re-supply flights to the Argentine garrison on the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Only one was lost during the war. Argentina also operated two KC-130s refuellers during the war, and these refueled the Skyhawk attack planes which sank the British frigate HMS Antelope. The British also used their C-130s to support their logistical operations.
During the Gulf War of 1991, the C-130 Hercules was used operationally by the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marine Corps, and the air forces of Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the UK.
During the invasion of Afghanistan and in support of the International Security Assistance Force, the C-130 Hercules was used operationally by Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Spain, the UK and the United States.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the C-130 Hercules was used operationally by Australia, the UK and the United States. After the initial invasion, C-130 operators as part of the Multinational force in Iraq used their C-130s to support their forces in Iraq.
One RAF C-130 was shot down on 30th January 2005, when an Iraqi insurgent brought it down firing with a ZU-23 anti-aircraft artillery gun while the plane was flying at 50 meters after it had dropped SAS special forces paratroopers.
A prominent C-130T aircraft is Fat Albert, the support aircraft for the US Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team. Although Fat Albert supports a Navy squadron, it is operated by the US Marine Corps (USMC) and its crew consists solely of USMC personnel. At some air shows featuring the team, Fat Albert takes part, performing flyovers and sometimes demonstrating its jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) capabilities.
The C-130 is generally a highly reliable aircraft. The Royal Air Force recorded an accident rate of about one aircraft loss per 250,000 flying hours over the last forty years, making it one of the safest aircraft they operate (alongside Vickers VC10s and Lockheed Tristars with no flying losses). However, more than 15 percent of the 2,350-plus production has been lost, including 70 by the United States Air Force and the United States Marine Corps while serving in the war in Southeast Asia. By the nature of the Hercules' worldwide service, the pattern of losses provides an interesting barometer of the global hot spots over the past fifty years, including Iraq.