The C-130: Celebrating 60 Years of Active Service
60 years ago, on the 23rd of August in 1954, a legend was born when the second experimental C-130 (designated then as YC-130) took to the skies over the Lockheed plant in Burbank California and made a 61 minute flight to Edwards Air Force Base. Stanley Beltz and Roy Wimmer piloted the aircraft while Jack Real and Dick Stanton took on their roles as flight engineers. Watching from the cockpit of a P-2 Neptune was the legendary designer Kelly Johnson- the man having originally stated developing the C-130 would kill the Lockheed Company!
Though the C-130 took flight in 1954 its conception occurred three years earlier after the United States Air Force realized that World War 2 era transports that were modified civilian airliners could not handle the rigors of modern warfare. Thus a new plane needed to be designed from scratch as a combat transport that could carry 92 passengers or 72 soldiers or 64 paratroopers. In addition to having a 41 foot long and ten foot high cargo compartment, the aircraft would need a loading ramp; something that was first pioneered on the German Junkers JU 252. Only a handful of companies accepted the challenge to design such a plane and Lockheed was awarded the contract.
The C-130 became a huge success for the United States military and various militaries around the world. It was just the plane the United States Air Force was looking for and it can land on short, unprepared runways which allows it operate in most places around the world making it a true workhorse that can execute a list of various roles. For instance, in addition to being a transport aircraft, the C-130 can be easily modified to serve as a tanker and carry out air to air refueling operations. It can also be equipped to carry out scientific research, perform search and rescue operations, maritime patrol, and it can equipped to execute one of its more popular roles as an AC-130 Spectre gunship.
When armed with a 25 mm GAU 12/U Equalizer Gatling Cannon, a 40mm Bofors Cannon, and 105 mm Howitzer the humble C-130 becomes the harbinger of death. Faster than helicopter and slower than a fighter the AC-130 can provide close air support for ground units, provide convoy protection, or conduct operations on high value targets. This deadly aircraft has seen action in just about every major conflict the United States has been involved in sense Vietnam.
Here’s a little known fact about the C-130. For the last 51 years it holds the record as being the largest and heaviest aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier. A KC-130 piloted by Lt. James H. Flatley lll made 21 unassisted, full stop landings and 21 takeoffs from the aircraft carrier Forrestal. That means that for twenty one times the C-130 landed on aircraft without using an arrestor hook to stop it; something that all aircraft expected to operate from carriers use. It also means that for 21 times the aircraft took off from the carrier without using the catapult system. Though the test were successful the idea in and of itself was too risky for everyday operations.
The C-130 works hard but it also plays hard too as it takes on another more entertaining role for the United States Naval Flight demonstration team the Blue Angles. Before the brilliantly painted F-18s take to the skies and awe spectators, a specially modified C-130, called Fat Albert, gets the show started. Until 2009 it performed a high speed takeoff using JATO Rockets but had had to stop due to dwindling supplies. After the takeoff Fat Albert performs various high speed passes and displays a combat landing.
Over the years, potential replacements for the C-130 have come and mostly gone. It seems that the only aircraft which can truly replace the Hercules is another, better Hercules. Cue the C-130J 'Super Hercules', first flown in 1996, and which garnered a new round of orders, with hundreds more deliveries to satisfied Hercules customers, all around the globe.
For 60 years the C-130 has been performing its primary role for the military, working for civilians by fighting fires or conducting research, entertaining crowds or tackling any challenge thrown its way. Without a doubt this wonderful plane is truly one of a kind and today we celebrate its well-earned place in aviation’s Hall of Fame.