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Lockheed C-130 Hercules

AC-130A/E/H/U Series

See USAF Fixed-Wing Gunships

DC-130A/E/H Series

Primary Role: Drone control

These specially modified C-130 variants (originally designated as GC-130A) serve as drone control aircraft. They can launch and direct up to four drones, which are mounted on underwing pylons. All special equipment is removable, permitting the aircraft to be used as freighters, assault transports, or ambulances.

EC-130E/H/V Series

Primary Role: Airborne battlefield command and control & electronic warfare


The EC-130E aircraft are used as an Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC). The aircraft has been modified with additional external antennae and designed to hold the "ABCCC" III capsule system. The system is a high-tech automated airborne command and control facility featuring computer generated color displays, digitally controlled communications, and rapid data retrieval. The platform's 23 fully securable radios, secure teletype, and 15 automatic fully computerized consoles, allow the battle staff to quickly analyze current combat situations and direct offensive air support towards fast-developing targets.

As an Air Combat Command asset, "ABCCC" (A-B-Triple-C) is an integral part of the Tactical Air Control System. While functioning as a direct extension of ground-based command and control authorities, the primary mission is providing flexibility in the overall control of tactical air resources. In addition, to maintain positive control of air operations, "ABCCC" can provide communications to higher headquarters, including national command authorities, in both peace and wartime environments. The USC-48 "ABCCC" III capsule, which fits into the aircraft cargo compartment, measures 40 feet (12m) long, weighs approximately 20,000 pounds (9,072kg), and costs $9 million each.

"Commando Solo"

In 1990, the EC-130E variant joined the newly formed Air Force Special Operations Command and has since been designated "Commando Solo".

Highly specialized modifications have been made to this latest version of the EC-130E airframe. Included in these modifications are enhanced navigation systems, self-protection equipment, and the capability of broadcasting color television on a multitude of worldwide standards throughout the TV VHF/UHF ranges.

"Commando Solo" primarily conducts psychological operations and civil affairs broadcast missions in the standard AM, FM, HF, TV and military communications bands. Missions are flown at maximum altitudes possible to ensure optimum propagation patterns. The EC-130E flies during either day or night scenarios with equal success, and is air refuelable. A typical mission consists of a single-ship orbit which is offset from the desired target audience. The targets may be either military or civilian personnel.

Older versions of the "Commando Solo" have a large blade antenna under each outer wing and above the dorsal fin. A smaller horizontal blade antenna is on each side of the rear fuselage. Bullet-shaped canisters located outboard of each underwing antenna and at the tail end of the aircraft house wire antennas that can be extended several hundred feet behind the EC-130E during a flight. The crew is normally made up of two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer, loadmaster, electronic warfare officer and six electronic equipment operators.

"Compass Call"

The EC-130H "Compass Call" modification performs communications jamming with a crew of 13 operating high tech countermeasure equipment for short notice support of tactical air/ground forces. Specifically, the modified aircraft uses noise jamming to prevent communication or degrade the transfer of information essential to command and control of weapon systems and other resources.

Modifications to the aircraft include an electronic countermeasures system ("Rivet Fire"), air refueling capability, and associated navigation and communications systems. "Rivet Fire" has demonstrated its powerful effect on enemy command and control networks in Panama and Iraq.

The EC-130H integrates into tactical air operation at any level. Although "Compass Call" primarily supports interdiction and offensive counter-air campaigns, the truly versatile and flexible nature of the aircraft and its crew enable the power of EC to be brought to bear on virtually any combat situations.

In the world of Electronic Combat, the major players are the EF-111, F-16, and EC-130H "Compass Call".

"EC-130V Series"

The Lockheed Martin EC-130V AEW&C aircraft was first developed by General Dynamics in 1992 for the United States Coast Guard as a proof-of-concept aircraft. The EC-130V combined a C-130H airframe with the APS-125 Radar and Mission System of the U.S. Navy's E-2C Hawkeye. This aircraft was primarily used for counter-narcotics missions requiring greater endurance than the E-2C could provide, but had also been evaluated for Search and Rescue, Fisheries Patrols, EEZ enforcement and as a support aircraft for NASA Space Shuttle launches.

Externally, the EC-130V differs from a standard Coast Guard C-130 with the fitting of a large rotodome housing the APS-125 radar. Internally, the mission system is palletized and rolled into the cargo compartment.

Due to budget cuts, the Coast Guard EC-130V program was terminated and the aircraft was transferred to the USAF as the NC-130H for further development, including upgrading to the latest APS-145 radar.

HC-130B/E/H Series

Primary Role: Maritime patrol & search and rescue

The United States Coast Guard was the first recipient of this C-130 variant. When first ordered in 1958, the Lockheed designation was SC-130B, which was later changed to HC-130B after entering service. These specially modified Hercules aircraft featured additional crew posts, two scanner stations offering an unrestricted field of view, and accommodations for 74 litter patients.

With the Coast Guard, this aircraft has multiple roles: search & rescue, enforcement of laws and treaties, marine environmental protection, international ice patrol over the North Atlantic, cargo and personnel transport, and military readiness.

The first HC-130H flew on 8 December 1964. This updated version was to primarily perform search and rescue missions. These aircraft also performed tasks related to the U.S. space program. They carried additional equipment and two 1,800-gallon fuel bladders in the cargo compartment. They also had a very unusual, and distinctive feature on top of the fuselage, forward of the wing. This large "blister" contained the Cook Electric re-entry tracking system which was used in conjunction with the Gemini spacecraft.

HC-130s can exceed 2,600 nautical miles (4,815km) in low-altitude flight with a mission endurance of up to 14 hours. Inertial Navigation Systems (INS), Omega, Loran-C, Global Positioning System (GPS), and radar and guidance aids that enhance the HC-130's effectiveness during long-range maritime patrols. These aircraft are also equipped with a ten-tube flare launch system. U.S. Coast Guard HC-130s are not capable of refueling other aircraft in flight.

HC-130N/P Series

Primary Role: Search and rescue & aerial refueling of helicopters

First flown in 1964, the HC-130N/P has served many roles and missions. The aircraft was initially modified to conduct search and rescue missions, provide a command and control platform, and refuel helicopters in flight.

Secondary mission capabilities include performing tactical airdrops of pararescue specialist teams, small bundles, zodiac watercraft, or four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicles, providing direct assistance to a survivor in advance of the arrival of a recovery vehicle. Other capabilities are extended visual and electronic searches over land or water, tactical airborne radar approaches and unimproved airfield operations. A team of three pararescue specialists (also known as PJs), trained in emergency trauma medicine, harsh environment survival and assisted evasion techniques, are part of the basic mission crew complement.

Ongoing modifications for the HC-130N/P include an integrated global positioning system (GPS) navigation package, radar and missile warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers, airborne integrated satellite communications radios and cockpit armor. Selected aircraft are in the process of being equipped with night vision goggle-compatible interior and exterior lighting, a personnel locator system compatible with aircrew survival radios, an improved digital low-power color radar and forward-looking infrared systems.

The HC-130N/P can fly in the day against a reduced threat; however, crews normally fly night, low-level, air refueling and airdrop operations using night vision goggles (NVG). It can fly low-level NVG tactical flight profiles to avoid detection. To enhance the probability of mission success and survivability near populated areas, crews employ tactics that include incorporating no external lighting or communications, and avoiding radar and weapons detection.

See also, MC-130P

JC-130 Series

Primary Role: Mid-air retrieval

The early-1960s era Corona reconnaissance satellite returned delicate film capsules to Earth that required mid-air retrieval by a JC-130 Hercules & HC-130 airlifter. These aircraft were manned by a crew of 10 personnel (two pilots, one flight engineer, two telemetry operators, one winch operator and four riggers). The telemetry operators would acquire the location of the satellite and relay the info to the pilots. Once visually acquired the pilots would head on course to the satellite descending towards the pacific ocean. One could visually acquire the satellite and its parachute at an altitude of approximately 50,000 ft. The winch operator and the riggers would deploy the retrieving apparatus called the "Loop", which consisted of high quality nylon rope with a series of brass hooks spliced into the apparatus. The whole snatching operation by the pilots was done visually. The winch operator and the four riggers would deploy the loop. As the aircraft flew over the parachute you would feel a little uplifting of the aircraft. Once contact was made between the parachute and the loop the winch line would pay out and stop. The winch then was put into gear and the retrevial process commenced. Once on board, the aircraft flew back to Hickam Air Force Base, where they were stationed and offload the satellite or the canister onto a truck and then loaded immediately onto a running C-141 Starlifter and then transported to a location, in Maryland, for analysis. The crews acquired these skills by practicing almost daily on practice missions, carried out with other aircraft dropping dummy bombs with chutes attached.

Visit the 6594th Test Group web site

KC-130F/R/T/J Series

Primary Role: Aerial refueling of helicopters & tactical airlift

The KC-130 is a multi-role, multi-mission tactical tanker/transport which provides the support required by Marine Air Ground Task Forces. This versatile asset provides in-flight refueling to both tactical aircraft and helicopters, as well as rapid ground refueling when required. Additional tasks performed are aerial delivery of troops and cargo, emergency resupply into unimproved landing zones within the objective or battle area, airborne Direct Air Support Center, emergency medevac, tactical insertion of combat troops and equipment, and evacuation missions.

The KC-130 is equipped with a removable 3,600-gallon stainless steel fuel tank that is carried inside the cargo compartment providing additional fuel when required. The two wing-mounted hose and drogue refueling pods each transfer up to 300 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). Some KC-130s are also equipped with defensive electronic and infrared countermeasures systems. Development is currently under way for the incorporation of interior/exterior night vision lighting, night vision goggle head-up displays, global positioning system, and jam-resistant radios.


The U.S. Marine Corps has chosen the KC-130J tanker to replace its aging KC-130F tanker fleet. The new KC-130J offers increased utility and much needed improvement in mission performance. As a force multiplier, the J-model tanker is capable of refueling both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft as well as conducting rapid ground refueling. The refueling speed envelope has been widened from 100 to 270 knots indicated airspeed, offering more capability and flexibility. Offload rates per refueling pod can be up to 300 gallons per minute simultaneously. The KC-130's offload is significantly greater than previous Hercules tankers. As an example, at 1,000 nautical miles (1,852km), the fuel offload is well over 45,000 pounds (20,412kg). Rapid ground refueling is also a premium capability. In austere conditions, the KC-130J can refuel helicopters, vehicles, and fuel caches at 600 gallons per minute. Additionally, the unique prop feathering capability while the engines are still running offers safer and more hospitable conditions for ground refueling than in the past.

LC-130F/H/R Series

Primary Role: Support of Arctic and Antarctic operations

LC-130s are specially modified with a wheel/ski landing gear configuration for operation in Arctic and Antarctic regions. Originally built for the U.S. Navy, most of these C-130 variants are being handed over to the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing. Antarctic Development Squadron 6, more commonly known as VXE-6, supported Operation Deep Freeze for over 44 years!

The LC-130's predecessor, the C-130D, was first introduced in 1956. During 1957, the U.S. Air Force conducted extensive testing of the wheel/ski configured aircraft (#55-0021) which could be operated from both conventional runways and snow/ice covered surfaces in Arctic regions and for resupply missions to units along the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line. The tests proved the aircraft could successfully do what had already been done by other wheel/ski configured aircraft, like the C-123J.

The wheel/ski configured C-130Ds were only built for the U.S. Air Force. They were, and still are, the largest aircraft to be equipped with skis. The modification involved installation of a nose and two main skis fitted around conventional landing gear. The nose ski measured 10 feet (3m) long by 6 feet (1.8m) wide, while the main skis were 20 feet (6m) long by 6 feet (1.8m) wide. The undersides were coated with Teflon to reduce surface friction and resist adhesion to ice and snow. Each ski weighed approximately 2,000 pounds (907kg).

Ski landings are similar to normal landings, however, takeoffs are another matter. Because of the friction of the skis on the snow, the runs are longer, especially on warmer days when the surface is softer. Under "sticky snow" conditions, eight JATO* (Jet Assisted Takeoff) bottles, installed aft of the main landing gear doors; four on each side, were often used to literally "blast" the aircraft off the snow. Each JATO bottle is capable of adding an extra 1,000 pounds of thrust for approximately 12 seconds during takeoff.

Also, because of the long distances the aircraft was expected to fly, two 450-gallon underwing pylon fuel tanks were installed, and provisions were made for two 500-gallon cargo compartment tanks. In 1966, two 450-gallon tanks were installed in the inboard wing dry-bay area.

The Air Force's confidence in the C-130D was confirmed when it was later compared with the C-123J. While the C-123J could carry a maximum load of 9,820 pounds (4,454kg) and fly 772 nautical miles (1,430km) and return, the C-130D could carry the same load 1,240 nautical miles (2,296km) and return. In addition, its cruise speed was considerably higher.

*  The British more accurately refer to this system as RATO (Rocket Assisted Takeoff).

MC-130E/H Series

Primary Role: Infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces

"Combat Talon I" & "Combat Talon II"

The MC-130E/H aircraft provide global, day, night and adverse weather capability to infiltrate, resupply and exfiltrate U.S. and allied special operations forces.

The MC-130E "Combat Talon I" also has a deep penetrating helicopter refueling role during special operations missions. Some of the MC-130Es are equipped with the Fulton air recovery system; a safe, rapid method of recovering personnel or equipment from either land or water. It involves use of a large, helium-filled balloon used to raise a 450-foot (137m) nylon lift line. The MC-130E flies toward the lift line at 150 miles per hour (241km/h), snags it with scissors-like arms located on the aircraft nose and the person or equipment is lifted off, experiencing less shock than that caused by a parachute opening. Aircrew members then use a hydraulic winch to pull the person or equipment aboard through the open rear cargo door.

The MC-130H "Combat Talon II" conducts infiltrations into politically denied/sensitive defended areas to resupply or exfiltrate special operations forces and equipment. These missions are conducted in adverse weather at low-level and long range. The MC-130H is supported with organic depots for the aircraft, radar, radome, and mission computer.

Both aircraft are equipped with in-flight refueling equipment, terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radar, an inertial and global positioning satellite navigation system, and a high-speed aerial delivery system. The special navigation and aerial delivery systems are used to locate small drop zones and deliver personnel or equipment with greater accuracy and higher speeds than possible with a standard C-130. The aircraft also can penetrate hostile airspace at low altitudes, and crews are specially trained in night and adverse weather operations.

Combat Talons feature highly automated controls and displays to reduce crew size and workload. The cockpit and cargo areas are compatible with night vision goggles. The integrated control and display subsystem combines basic aircraft flight, tactical and mission sensor data into a comprehensive set of display formats that assist each operator in performing tasks efficiently.

On the MC-130H, the pilot and co-pilot displays on the cockpit instrument panel and the navigator/electronic warfare operator console on the aft portion of the flight deck each have two video displays and a data-entry keyboard. The electronic warfare operator also has a data-entry keyboard and two video displays, one of which is dedicated to electronic warfare data. The navigator uses radar ground map displays, forward-looking infrared displays, tabular mission management displays and equipment status information.

Since 1979, a number of MC-130H aircraft have been delivered to the USAF. These later models are equipped with more advanced avionics including the ALR-46 radar-warning receiver and ALE-27 chaff dispenser.

MC-130P Series

Primary Role: Aerial refueling of special operations forces helicopters

"Combat Shadow"

First flown in 1964, the aircraft has served many roles and missions. Originally designated as the HC-130N/P, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) aircraft designations were changed in February 1996 to align them with all other M-series special operations mission aircraft. All HC-130N/P aircraft not assigned to AFSOC have retained their rescue aircraft designation.

The MC-130P "Combat Shadow" flies clandestine or low-visibility, low-level missions into politically sensitive or hostile territory to provide air refueling for special operations helicopters. The MC-130P primarily flies its single or multi-ship missions at night to reduce detection and intercept by airborne threats. Secondary mission capabilities include airdrop of small special operations teams, small bundles, and zodiac and combat rubber raiding craft; as well as night-vision goggle takeoffs and landings, tactical airborne radar approaches and in-flight refueling as a receiver.

MC-130P "Combat Shadow" and MC-130E "Combat Talon I" aircraft have similar missions, but the E-models have more instruments designed for covert operations. Both aircraft fly infiltration/exfiltration missions airdrop or airland personnel and equipment in hostile territory. They also aerial refuel special operations helicopters and usually fly missions at night with aircrews using night-vision goggles. The "Combat Talon I", however, has an electronic countermeasures suite and terrain-following radar that enables it to fly extremely low, counter enemy radar and penetrate deep into hostile territory.

When fully modified, the MC-130P will have a fully integrated inertial navigation and global positioning system (GPS), and night-vision goggle-compatible interior and exterior lighting. It will also have a forward-looking infrared radar, missile and radar warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers, night-vision goggle compatible heads-up display, satellite and data burst communications, and in-flight refueling capability as a receiver.

One notable external feature is the large "blister" located on top of the aircraft's fuselage, forward of the wing. Originally designed to house the Cook Electric re-entry tracking system, this feature has been removed and many of the aircraft have since lost the "blisters" as well.

Note: The U.S. Coast Guard operates the HC-130H variant. Primarily used for the role of maritime patrol/search and rescue, the HC-130H is not capable of refueling other aircraft in-flight.

WC-130B/E/H/J Series

Primary Role: Weather reconnaissance

"Hurricane Hunters"

The WC-130 Hercules is a modified version of the C-130 transport configured with computerized weather instrumentation for penetration of severe storms to obtain data on storm movements, dimensions and intensity. The WC-130B became operational in 1959, the WC-130E in 1962, the WC-130H in 1964, followed by the WC-130J in 1999.

The WC-130 provides vital tropical cyclone forecasting information. It penetrates tropical cyclones and hurricanes at altitudes ranging from 500 to 10,000 feet (152-3,048m) above the ocean surface to collect meteorological data in the vortex, or eye, of the storm. The aircraft normally flies a radius of about 100 miles (161km) from the vortex to collect detailed data about the structure of the tropical cyclone. The information collected makes possible advance warning of hurricanes and typhoons, and increases the accuracy of hurricane predictions and warnings by 30 percent. Collected data are relayed directly to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

The WC-130 is capable of staying aloft almost 18 hours at an optimum cruise speed of more than 300 miles per hour. An average weather reconnaissance mission might last 11 hours and cover almost 3,500 miles (5,633km). The crew collects and reports weather data every 30 seconds.

From the flight deck, the aerial reconnaissance weather officer operates the computerized weather reconnaissance equipment to measure outside air temperature, dew point (humidity), altitude of the aircraft and barometric pressure at that height. The weather officer also evaluates other meteorological conditions such as turbulence, icing, visibility, cloud types and amounts, and ocean surface winds.

Other special equipment on board the WC-130 includes the dropsonde. This is a cylindrically-shaped instrument about 16 inches (40.6cm) long and 3.25 inches (8.3cm) in diameter. The dropsonde is equipped with a high frequency radio and other sensing devices and is released from the rear of the aircraft about every 400 miles (644km), and each pass through the eye. As the instrument descends to the ocean surface, it measures and relays to the aircraft a vertical atmospheric profile of the temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure and wind data. The dropsonde is slowed and stabilized by a small parachute. The Dropsonde System Operator receives, analyzes and encodes the data for transmission by satellite.

The WC-130 is flown exclusively from Keesler Air Force Base, MS, by Air Force Reserve organizations known as Hurricane Hunters. The hurricane reconnaissance area includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and central Pacific Ocean areas.


On 12 October 1999, the U.S. Air Force took delivery of its first WC-130J aircraft. Nine others are scheduled for delivery by late-2000.

In September 1998, the C-130J Development System Office (DSO) at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, signed a contract with Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems, Marietta, GA, to modify six C-130Js to the "W", or weather, configuration. This involved installing and integrating special avionics and weather sensors, as well as making structural modifications. The DSO later exercised contract options to modify an additional four C-130J aircraft.

The WC-130Js will replace the existing fleet of ten WC-130H-model aircraft. The "J-models" are based on the familiar C-130 platform that the Air Force has flown for more than 40 years, but with many improvements, including new engines and avionics, as well as the addition of two mission computers and two head-up displays.

Sensors mounted on the outside of WC-130Js provide real-time temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, radar-measured altitude, wind speed and direction. These are used to calculate a complete weather observation every 30 seconds. These aircraft also deploy dropsondes, instruments ejected out the aircraft and deployed by parachute through the storm to the sea. During descent, they gather real-time weather data and relay it back to the aircraft.

This information is transmitted by satellite directly to the National Hurricane Center for input into the national weather data networks. Forecasters use the data to better predict the path of a storm or hurricane.

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