By Rob Russell
The first of two Lockheed YC-130 Hercules four-engine transport prototypes, 53-3397, made its first flight from the Lockheed Air Terminal at Burbank, California, to Edwards Air Force Base. The flight crew consisted of test pilots Stanley Beltz and Roy Wimmer, with Jack G. Real (a future Lockheed vice president) and Dick Stanton as flight engineers. From a standing start, the YC-130 was airborne at 261 meters, The flight lasted 1 hour, 1 minute.
The Hercules C-130 entered service with the U.S. in the late 1950s, followed by Australia and many other nations. During its years of service, the Hercules family has participated in numerous military, civilian and humanitarian aid operations. In 2007, the C-130 became the fifth aircraft to mark 50 years of continuous service with its original primary customer, which is the United States Air Force for the C-130. The C-130 Hercules is the longest continuously produced military aircraft at over 60 years, with the updated Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules currently being produced.
The Korean War showed that World War II-era piston-engine transports—Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars, Douglas C-47 Skytrains and Curtiss C-46 Commandos—were no longer adequate. Thus, on 2 February 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 of 92 passengers, 72 combat troops or 64 paratroopers in a cargo compartment that was approximately 41 feet (12 m) long, 9 feet (2.7 m) high, and 10 feet (3.0 m) wide. Unlike transports derived from passenger airliners, it was to be designed specifically as a combat transport with loading from a hinged loading ramp at the rear of the fuselage.
A key feature was the introduction of the Allison T56 turboprop power plant, which was developed for the C-130. At the time, the turboprop was a new application of gas turbines, which offered greater range at propeller-driven speeds compared to pure turbojets, which were faster but consumed more fuel.
They also produced much more power for their weight than piston engines.
The Hercules resembled a larger four-engine brother to the C-123 Provider with a similar wing and cargo ramp layout that evolved from the Chase XCG-20 Avitruc, which in turn, was first designed and flown as a cargo glider in 1947.
The Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter also had a rear ramp, which made it possible to drive vehicles onto the plane (also possible with forward ramp on a C-124). The ramp on the Hercules was also used to airdrop cargo, which included low-altitude extraction for Sheridan tanks and even dropping large improvised "daisy cutter" bombs.
The new Lockheed cargo plane design possessed a range of 1,100 nmi, take-off 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, and 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. Hall Hibbard, Lockheed vice president and chief engineer, saw the proposal and directed it to Kelly Johnson, who did not care for the low-speed, unarmed aircraft, and remarked, "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 2 July 1951.
The first flight of the YC-130 prototype was made on 23 August 1954 from the Lockheed plant in Burbank, California. The aircraft, serial number 53-3397, was the second prototype, but the first of the two to fly. The YC-130 was piloted by Stanley Beltz and Roy Wimmer on its 61-minute flight to Edwards Air Force Base; Jack Real and Dick Stanton served as flight engineers. Kelly Johnson flew chase in a Lockheed P2V Neptune.
After the two prototypes were completed, production began in Marietta, Georgia, where over 2,300 C-130s have been built through 2009.
The initial production model, the C-130A, was powered by Allison T56-A-9 turboprops with three-blade propellers and were originally equipped with the blunt nose of the prototypes. Deliveries began in December 1956, continuing until the introduction of the C-130B model in 1959. Some A-models were equipped with skis and re-designated C-130D. As the C-130A became operational with Tactical Air Command (TAC), the C-130's lack of range became apparent and additional fuel capacity was added in the form of external pylon-mounted tanks at the end of the wings.
The C-130B model was developed to complement the A-models that had previously been delivered, and incorporated new features, particularly increased fuel capacity in the form of auxiliary tanks built into the centre wing section and an AC electrical system. Four-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers replaced the Aeroproducts three-blade propellers that distinguished the earlier A-models. The C-130B had ailerons with a boost increased from 2,050 psi to 3,000 psi, as well as uprated engines and four-blade propellers that were standard until the J-model's introduction.
An electronic reconnaissance variant of the C-130B was designated C-130B-II. A total of 13 aircraft were converted. The C-130B-II was distinguished by its false external wing fuel tanks, which were disguised signals intelligence (SIGINT) receiver antennas. These pods were slightly larger than the standard wing tanks found on other C-130Bs. Most aircraft featured a swept blade antenna on the upper fuselage, as well as extra wire antennas between the vertical fin and upper fuselage not found on other C-130s. Radio call numbers on the tail of these aircraft were regularly changed so as to confuse observers and disguise their true mission.
The extended-range C-130E model entered service in 1962 after it was developed as an interim long-range transport for the Military Air Transport Service. Essentially a B-model, the new designation was the result of the installation of 1,360 US gal Sargent Fletcher external fuel tanks under each wing's midsection and more powerful Allison T56-A-7A turboprops. The hydraulic boost pressure to the ailerons was reduced back to 2,050 psi (14.1 MPa) as a consequence of the external tanks' weight in the middle of the wingspan. The E model also featured structural improvements, avionics upgrades and higher gross weight. Australia took delivery of 12 C130E Hercules during 1966–67 to supplement the 12 C-130A models already in service with the RAAF. Sweden and Spain fly the TP-84T version of the C-130E fitted for aerial refuelling capability.
The KC-130 tankers, originally C-130F procured for the US Marine Corps (USMC) in 1958 (under the designation GV-1) are equipped with a removable 3,600 US gal (13,626 L) stainless steel fuel tank carried inside the cargo compartment. The two wing-mounted hose and drogue aerial refuelling pods each transfer up to 300 US gal per minute (19 L per second) 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, centre wing that was retrofitted to many earlier H-models. For structural reasons, some models are required to land with certain amounts of fuel when carrying heavy cargo, reducing usable range. The H model remains in widespread use with the United States 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, with Australia purchasing 12 of type in 1978 to replace the original 12 C-130A models, which had first entered RAAF Service in 1958. The U.S. Coast Guard employs the HC-130H for long-range search and rescue, drug interdiction, illegal migrant patrols, homeland security, and logistics.
C-130H models produced from 1992 to 1996 were designated as C-130H3 by the USAF. The "3" denotes the third variation in design for the H series. Improvements included ring laser gyros for the INUs, GPS receivers, a partial glass cockpit (ADI and HSI instruments), a more capable APN-241 colour radar, night vision device compatible instrument lighting, and an integrated radar and missile warning system. The electrical system upgrade included Generator Control Units (GCU) and Bus Switching units (BSU) to provide stable 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 2.54 m plug aft of the cockpit and a 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, where it was classified as the Hercules W.2. This aircraft was heavily modified (with its most prominent feature being the long red and white striped atmospheric probe on the nose and the move of the weather radar into a pod above the forward fuselage). This aircraft, named Snoopy, was withdrawn in 2001 and was then modified by Marshall of Cambridge Aerospace as a flight-testbed for the A400M turbine engine, the TP400. 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 MC-130E Combat Talon was developed for the USAF during the Vietnam War to support special operations missions in Southeast Asia and led to both the MC-130H Combat Talon II as well as a family of other special missions aircraft. 37 of the earliest models currently operating with the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) are scheduled to be replaced by new-production MC-130J versions.
The EC-130 Commando Solo is another special mission variant within AFSOC, albeit operated solely by an AFSOC-gained wing in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and is a psychological operations/information operations (PSYOP/IO) platform equipped as an aerial radio station and television stations able to transmit messaging over commercial frequencies. Other versions of the EC-130, most notably the EC-130H Compass Call, are also special variants but are assigned to the Air Combat Command (ACC). The AC-130 gunship was first developed during the Vietnam War to provide close air support and other ground-attack duties.
The HC-130 is a family of long-range search and rescue variants used by the USAF and the U.S. Coast Guard. Equipped for the deep deployment of Pararescuemen (PJs), survival equipment, and aerial refuelling of combat rescue helicopters, HC-130s are usually the on-scene command aircraft for combat SAR missions and non-combat SAR.
Early USAF versions were also 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 refuelling of helicopters proved safer and more versatile. The movie The Perfect Storm depicts a real-life SAR mission involving aerial refuelling of a New York Air National Guard HH-60G by a New York Air National Guard HC-130P.
The C-130R and C-130T are U.S. Navy and USMC models, both equipped with under-wing external fuel tanks. The USN C-130T is similar but has additional avionics improvements. In both models, aircraft are equipped with Allison T56-A-16 engines. The USMC versions are designated KC-130R or KC-130T when equipped with underwing refuelling pods and pylons and are fully night vision system compatible.
The Lockheed L-100 (L-382) is a civilian variant, equivalent to a C-130E model without military equipment. The L-100 also has two stretched versions. Safari used these extensively in the Angolan Bush War and will always be fondly remembered as “Leo the min day Flossie “by all the soldiers that did time on the “Border”.
In the 1970s, Lockheed proposed a C-130 variant with turbofan engines rather than turboprops, but the U.S. Air Force preferred the take-off performance of the existing aircraft. In the 1980s, the C-130 was intended to be replaced by the Advanced Medium STOL Transport project. The project was cancelled and the C-130 has remained in production.
Building on lessons learned, Lockheed Martin modified a commercial variant of the C-130 into a High Technology Test Bed (HTTB). This test aircraft set numerous short take-off and landing performance records and significantly expanded the database for future derivatives of the C-130. Modifications made to the HTTB included extended chord ailerons, a long chord rudder, fast-acting double-slotted trailing edge flaps, a high-camber wing leading edge extension, a larger dorsal fin and dorsal fins, the addition of three spoiler panels to each wing upper surface, a long-stroke main and nose landing gear system, and changes to the flight controls and a change from direct mechanical linkages assisted by hydraulic boost, to fully powered controls, in which the mechanical linkages from the flight station controls operated only the hydraulic control valves of the appropriate boost unit. The HTTB first flew on 19 June 1984, with civil registration of N130X. After demonstrating many new technologies, some of which were applied to the C-130J, the HTTB was lost in a fatal accident on 3 February 1993, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, in Marietta, Georgia. The crash was attributed to disengagement of the rudder fly-by-wire flight control system, resulting in a total loss of rudder control capability while conducting ground minimum control speed tests (Vmcg). The disengagement was a result of the inadequate design of the rudder's integrated actuator package by its manufacturer; the operator's insufficient system safety review failed to consider the consequences of the inadequate design to all operating regimes. A factor which contributed to the accident was the flight crew's lack of engineering flight test training.
In the 1990s, the improved C-130J Super Hercules was developed by Lockheed. This model is the newest version and the only model in production. Externally similar to the classic Hercules in general appearance, the J model has new turboprop engines, six-bladed propellers, digital avionics, and other new systems.
The U.S. Forest Service developed the Modular Airborne Firefighting System for the C-130 in the 1970s, which allows regular aircraft to be temporarily converted into an air tanker for fighting wildfires. In the late 1980s, 22 retired USAF C-130As were removed from storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and transferred to the U.S. Forest Service, which then transferred them to six private companies to be converted into air tankers. After one of these aircraft crashed due to wing separation in flight as a result of fatigue stress cracking, the USFS stopped contracting the C-130A for firefighting. Some operators continue to fly the C-130As for other missions.
The Legacy of the Mighty C-130 lives on here in South Africa. Early in January 1963 the SA Air Force’s new C-130 Hercules aircraft were flown from the USA to Waterkloof by members of 28 Squadron, to herald a new era of transport flying in the SAAF. In September 1997 C-130B No 407 left for Marshalls Aerospace in the United Kingdom for a major avionics upgrade, in order to extend the aircraft’s service life by an additional 20 years. Two USAF C-130B’s, No’s 408 and 409 were also upgraded at Marshall's thus increasing the SAAF fleet to 9 aircraft. The first of the upgraded aircraft (No 407) arrived back at AFB Waterkloof in September 2001, followed shortly afterwards by No’s 408 and 409. Denel Aviation has completed the upgrade of the remaining aircraft. The aircraft was renamed C-130BZ's most of them are still in service at 28 Squadron based at Waterkloof. Sadly only one of the SAAF C-130s is currently serviceable due to military budget cuts and a very unfortunate landing accident in Goma