Lockheed C-130 Hercules
Design & Development

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 1,100 nautical miles (2,000 km), 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.

First flight

The first flight of the YC-130 prototype was made on August 23, 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 P2V Neptune.

Both YC-130 Hercules prototypes in formation flight. (Source: U.S. Air Force)


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.

C-130A Model

The first production C-130s were designated as A-models, with deliveries to the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing at Ardmore AFB, Oklahoma and the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Sewart AFB, Tennessee. Six additional squadrons were assigned to the 322nd Air Division in Europe and the 315th Air Division in the Far East. Additional airplanes were modified for electronics intelligence work and assigned to Rhine-Main Air Base, Germany while modified RC-130As were assigned to the Military Air Transport Service photo-mapping division. Airplanes equipped with giant skis were designated as C-130Ds, but were essentially A-models except for the conversion. As the C-130A became operational with Tactical Air Command, the airplane'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 A-model continued in service through the Vietnam War, where the airplanes assigned to the four squadrons at Naha AB, Okinawa and one at Tachikawa AB, Japan performed yeoman's service, including operating highly classified special operations missions such as the BLIND BAT FAC/Flare mission and FACT SHEET leaflet mission over Laos and North Vietnam.

C-130B Model

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 center wing section and an AC electrical system. Four-bladed Hartzell propellers replaced the Aero Product three-bladed propellers that distinguished the earlier A-models. B-models replaced A-models in the 314th and 463rd Troop Carrier Wings. During the Vietnam War four squadrons assigned to the 463rd Troop Carrier/Tactical Airlift Wing based at Clark and Mactan Air Fields in the Philippines were used primarily for tactical airlift operations in South Vietnam. In the spring of 1969 463rd crews commenced COMMANDO VAULT bombing missions dropping M-121 10,000 pound bombs to clear "instant LZs" for helicopters. As the Vietnam War wound down, the 463rd B-models and A-models of the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing were transferred back to the United States where most were assigned to Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units. Another prominent role for the B-model was with the United States Marine Corps, where Hercules designated as GV-1s replaced C-119s. After Air Force C-130Ds proved the type's usefulness in Antarctica, the US Navy purchased a number of B-models equipped with skis.

C-130E model

The extended range C-130E model entered service in 1962 after it 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 5,150 liter (1,360 US gallon) fuel tanks under each wing. (center-section) wing-mounted auxiliary fuel tanks and more powerful Allison T-56-A-7A turboprops. The E model also featured structural improvements, avionics upgrades and a higher gross weight.

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.

C-130H model

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.

C-130K model

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) where upgraded and sold to the Austrian Air Force in 2002.

Later C-130 models & variants

The HC-130N & P are long range search and rescue variants used by the USAF Air Rescue Service. Equipped for deep deployment of pararescue men (PJs), survival equipment, and aerial refueling of combat rescue helicopters, they 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 by an HC-130.

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 RC-130 is a reconnaissance version. A single example is used by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.

Civilian models

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.

Next generation

In the 1970s Lockheed proposed a C-130 variant with turbofan engines rather than turboprops, but the US Air Force preferred the takeoff 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 canceled and the C-130 has remained in production.

C-130J model

The C-130J Super Hercules 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 turboprops, digital avionics, and other new systems.