|C-130 Hercules Lands on U.S.S. Forrestal
When one reviews the encyclopedic range of
accomplishments by the C-130 Hercules and its valiant aircrews over the years, surely one of the most
astounding took place in October 1963 when the U.S. Navy decided to try to land a Hercules on
an aircraft carrier. Was it possible? Who would believe that the big, four-engine C-130 with its bulky
fuselage and 132-foot wing span could land on the deck of a carrier?
Not only was it possible, it was done in moderately rough seas 500 miles out in the
North Atlantic off the coast of Boston. In so doing, the airplane became the largest and heaviest aircraft
to ever land on an aircraft carrier, a record that stands to this day.
When Lt. James H. Flatley III was told about his new assignment, he thought somebody
was pulling his leg. "Operate a C-130 off an aircraft carrier? Somebody's got to be kidding," he said.
But they weren't kidding. In fact, the Chief of Naval Operations himself had ordered a feasibility study
on operating the big propjet aboard the Norfolk-based U.S.S. Forrestal
(CVA-59). The Navy was trying to find out whether they could use the Hercules as a "Super COD" - a
"Carrier Onboard Delivery" aircraft. The airplane then used for such tasks was the Grumman C-1 Trader, a
twin piston-engine bird with a limited payload capacity and 300-mile range. If an aircraft carrier is
operating in mid-ocean, it has no "onboard delivery" system to fall back on and must come nearer land
before taking aboard even urgently needed items. The Hercules was stable and reliable, with a long
cruising range and capable of carrying large payloads.
The aircraft, a KC-130F refueler transport (BuNo 149798), on loan from the U.S.
Marines, was delivered on 8 October. Lockheed's only modifications to the original plane included
installing a smaller nose-landing gear orifice, an improved anti-skid braking system, and removal of the
underwing refueling pods. "The big worry was whether we could meet the maximum sink rate of nine feet
per second," Flatley said. As it turned out, the Navy was amazed to find they were able to better this
mark by a substantial margin.
In addition to Flatley, the crew consisted of Lt.Cmdr. W.W. Stovall, copilot; ADR-1
E.F. Brennan, flight engineer; and Lockheed engineering flight test pilot Ted H. Limmer, Jr. The initial
sea-born landings on 30 October 1963 were made into a 40-knot wind. Altogether, the crew successfully
negotiated 29 touch-and-go landings, 21 unarrested full-stop landings, and 21 unassisted takeoffs at
gross weights of 85,000 pounds up to 121,000 pounds. At 85,000 pounds, the KC-130F came to a complete
stop within 267 feet, about twice the aircraft's wing span! The Navy was delighted to discover that even
with a maximum payload, the plane used only 745 feet for takeoff and 460 feet for landing roll. The
short landing roll resulted from close coordination between Flatley and Jerry Daugherty, the carrier's
landing signal officer. Daugherty, later to become a captain and assigned to the Naval Air Systems
Command, gave Flatley an engine "chop" while still three or four feet off the deck.
Lockheed's Ted Limmer, who checked out fighter pilot Flatley in the C-130, stayed on
for some of the initial touch-and-go and full-stop landings. "The last landing I participated in, we
touched down about 150 feet from the end, stopped in 270 feet more and launched from that position,
using what was left of the deck. We still had a couple hundred feet left when we lifted off. Admiral
Brown was flabbergasted."
The plane's wingspan cleared the Forrestal's flight deck "island" control tower by
just under 15 feet as the plane roared down the deck on a specially painted line. Lockheed's chief
engineer, Art E. Flock was aboard to observe the testing. "The sea was pretty big that day. I was up on
the captain's bridge. I watched a man on the ship's bow as that bow must have gone up and down 30 feet."
The speed of the shop was increased 10 knots to reduce yaw motion and to reduce wind direction. Thus,
when the plane landed, it had a 40 to 50 knot wind on the nose. "That airplane stopped right opposite
the captain's bridge," recalled Flock. "There was cheering and laughing. There on the side of the
fuselage, a big sign had been painted on that said, "LOOK MA, NO HOOK."
From the accumulated test data, the Navy concluded that with the C-130 Hercules, it
would be possible to lift 25,000 pounds of cargo 2,500 miles and land it on a carrier. Even so, the idea
was considered a bit too risky for the C-130 and the Navy elected to use a smaller COD aircraft. For his
effort, the Navy awarded Flatley the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Excerpts from Herk: Hero of the Skies, by Joseph Earl Dabney, Airlines Publications and Sales, Ltd., 1979.
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