Lockheed C-130 Hercules turns 60


YC-130s-formation-USAF-300x19923rd August 2014 | Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, USA. In November 1977 an Ohio Air National Guard Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) C-130E landed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and taxied to the tarmac. There the pilots shut down the turboprop engines. Shortly thereafter 75 Army ROTC cadets filed up the rear cargo ramp and into the massive airplane. The college students duly strapped into the troop seats and waited for departure to Henry Post Army Airfield at Fort Sill.

Within minutes a U.S. Air Force (USAF) staff car pulled up and a brigadier general and his 2 aides disembarked and joined the seated youths. The pilots started the 4 powerplants as the loadmaster, a master sergeant, opened a tin and made his way through the compartment. He offered two small pink cylindrical objects to each seated individual.

One of the Israeli Air Force Hercules taxis to ramp on 4 July 1976 with former Jewish hostages aboard. Photo: IDF.

As the C-130 taxied out to the active runway a few of the occupants thought about the famous rescue raid (Operation Entebbe) carried out by Israel Defense Forces special forces transported by C-130s the previous year, its stellar service through the Vietnam conflict and the thousands of military and civilian people airlifted around the world by Hercules over the previous 2 decades. The C-130 was already a classic and proven workhorse. Although big and slow, it was was nonetheless an enjoyable respite to be aboard a Hercules.

The brigadier popped the pink “treats” into his mouth and began to chew. The puzzled loadmaster incredulously leaned over and whispered into the brigadier’s ear. “Sir,” he said, “that is not bubble gum. They are wax hearing protectors for insertion into ears.” The general pretended not to hear the non-commissioned officer and waited until he thought no one was observing him. When the man, who was wearing single stars on his collars, believed that that no one was observing his actions he spat the wax into his hand and stuffed the mass into a pocket of his uniform trousers.

After the long and noisy flight to, followed by a combat landing, in Oklahoma, the loadmaster gazed incredulously skyward and looked around. It was a beautiful autumn day with temperatures in the 70s “Where’s the snow?” exclaimed the man. “I put on thermal underwear because the meteorological officer said it is cold here!” This aerial journey verified the title and lyrics of The Main Ingredient’s 1972 hit song Everybody Plays The Fool.

USAF, Canadian Forces, Royal Australian Air Force & Israel Air Force at Pope Air Force Base, NC , on 8 December 1987. Photo: USAF DF-ST-89-02219
USAF, Canadian Forces, Royal Australian Air Force & Israel Air Force C-130s at Pope Air Force Base, NC , on 8 December 1987. Photo: USAF DF-ST-89-02219

The above is but one story related to the legendary C-130. After six decades of existence there are thousands of additional recollections from times of peace and war.

The first flight of the YC-130 prototype was made on 23 August 1954 at Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank, California. The aircraft, serial number 53-3397 (the second prototype) was the first to take wing. A key feature of the plane was the introduction of the Allison T56. The turboprop engines represented a new application of gas turbines, utilizing exhaust gases to turn a propeller. This configuration provided greater range at propeller-driven speeds compared to pure turbojets, which resulted in greater speed but also consumed jet fuel at higher consumption rates. Range was thereby greatly increased.

The C-130 entered service with U.S. in the 1950s and has enjoyed the longest continuous production run of any military aircraft in history. Because the C-130 was designed to be capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the type was originally employed for troop transport, medical evacuation and cargo delivery.

AC-130A at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base in 1969. Photo NMUSAF 120517-F-DW547-012
AC-130A at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base in 1969.
Photo NMUSAF 120517-F-DW547-012

Over the ensuing decades the “Herc’s” airframe has been modified for other roles and missions including the following: gunship, airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research and related support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, maritime patrol and airborne firefighting. As a result there are more than 40 models and variants of the C-130, and Hercules serve with more than 60 nations’ militaries. The C-130J Super Hercules is now in inventories.

In the year 2007 the Hercules became only the fifth aircraft to attain 50 years of usage with and production for USAF.


For more information the author (John T. Stemple) refers interested readers to the below listing of suggested readings and videos.

Suggested Viewing

Sources & Suggested Readings

Lockheed C-130 Hercules


C-130 Hercules


Navigating to Freedom: 37 Years Since Entebbe


Operation Entebbe