Lockheed JC-130

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.

See also, MC-130P