Today let’s talk about the Lockheed C-130, one of the oldest aircraft in service in the world but also one of the the world most used.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is a military transport aircraft designed by the United States in the early 1950s. It had remarkable success with more than 2,000 units built in more than 50 different countries. And even after more than 60 years it remains still largely used and always produced.
In 1951, after the blockade of Berlin and the beginning of the Korean War, the United States wanted to modernize its fleet of carriers consisting mainly of C-47 Skytrain and C-119 Flying Boxcar. The US Air Force launched a request for an assault transport aircraft that could carry 64 paratroopers, take off and land on rudimentary runways, and operate with an engine out of service.
In 1952, the US Air Force chose the Lockheed project called YC-130A and ordered two prototypes. On August 23, 1954, the first flight took place in Burbank, California and on December 9, 1956, the C-130A Hercules was put into service in the US Air Force.
The C-130 was designed with a sturdy frame to land on unprepared areas such as beaches or grass runways. The dimensions of the aircraft’s cargo hold allow the C-130 to carry equipment such as lightly armored personnel carriers, trucks, boats, etc.
Since its inception, over 40 different versions of the Hercules have been designed. Among these versions, 3 of these versions make the Hercules an unusual aircraft.
The first version is the AC-130 which is an air support aircraft, intended to provide fire support for ground-based units. Developed to replace the AC-47 Spooky during the Vietnam War, he also served on other theaters.
The particularity of this plane is to shoot with guns whose axis of fire is perpendicular to the axis of flight of the aircraft. This arrangement allows using at the same time several weapons installed along the fuselage.
Several different “gunships” are based on the C-130 such as the AC-130 Spectrum and the AC-130U Spooky.
The AC-130H Spectrum is armed with two 20mm M61 Vulcan guns, a 40mm Bofors L60 gun and a 105mm M102 short barrel, which is the largest caliber gun ever mounted on a plane.
On the Spooky AC-130U, the Vulcan is replaced by a 25mm GAU-12 / U Equalizer.
This aircraft is only in service in the United States Air Force and its crew usually consists of twelve to thirteen men.
Another peculiarity for the Hercules is that it can also be used in the fight against forest fire.
After the Laguna fire in 1970, which overwhelmed existing firefighting resources, the US Congress decided to establish the “Modular Airborne FireFighting System” program or MAFFS.
Designed to be loaded into the cargo hold of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules and initially allow the release of 10,000 liters of water, the MAFFS has evolved to reach a capacity of more than 11,000 liters.
The latest generation now allows to carry a mixture of water and retardant product, and the water can now be released through a side opening in the fuselage of the aircraft without having to depressurize the cabin before each launch.
Airplanes with MAFFS require a total crew of six who are trained each year with USFS air operations personnel.
Nearly 50 years after its creation, the Modular Airborne FireFighting System continues to be actively used, mainly because of the last fires that the United States has experienced in recent years.
Another remarkable version of the Hercules is the special version equipped with a ski landing gear and equipment suitable for missions in the Arctic or Antarctic.
Built in the mid-1950s and named Lockheed LC-130 Hercules, it takes the outline of the conventional Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The notable differences are the removable skis as well as the attachment points of the JATOs on the side of the fuselage.
The JATO is a rocket engine system that provides extra power during take-off.
Four of these rockets are installed on each side of the Hercules fuselage and are generally used when the LC-130 is operating on uneven snow surfaces or when the take-off distance is too short.
The LC-130 is equipped with three skis, they are all removable and attached to the landing gear of the aircraft. These skis are large enough to allow the plane to easily navigate on snow and ice.
The LC-130 is still in use today, and one of its primary mission is the supply and operational support of the McMurdo Antarctic Base.
On October 30, 1963, a KC-130 achieved the historical record for the heaviest aircraft to have ever landed and taken off on an aircraft carrier.
Piloted by Lt. James H. Flatley, the aircraft managed to make 21 landings and take-offs. The tests performed on the USS Forrestal had to specify whether the C-130 was capable of operating on an aircraft carrier. Although the tests on the aircraft carrier were a success, the US Navy decided to commission the smaller Grumman C-2 Greyhound transport aircraft instead, as the operations with the C-130 were considered too risky.