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Why Has The C-130 Been Called The Energizer Bunny of Aircraft?

9.18.2017C130

On April 7th, 2015, the Lockheed Martin Corporation celebrated the 60th anniversary of one of its most long-lived and fruitful aircraft, the legendary C-130. It was on that date that the first production model was rolled out of their factory in Marietta, Georgia back in 1955, where the governor smashed a bottle of water from the Chattahoochee River across its nose to christen it.

Celebrating the Long Lasting History of the C-130

 

At the 2015 celebration, Governor Nathan Deal recreated that ceremony on a Super Hercules, while C-130 number 2,500 was coming to life on the assembly line inside the factory. The previous year, the historic aircraft reached another 60-year milestone. On August 23rd, 1954, the aircraft, then designated as the YC-130 took flight for the first time in Burbank, California.

The Lockheed Company has been manufacturing the C-130 longer than two of its other major hits, the iconic B-52 bomber and the U-2 spy plane. The U.S Congress has had a long-standing love affair with the aircraft, providing generous funding for new planes and upgrades, even in the face of resistance from the Pentagon. One defense analyst has called it the ‘Energizer Bunny’ of the aerospace industry. It has been convincingly argued that the C-130 is the most successful aircraft in military history, certainly the oldest in continuous production.

So what keeps this bunny ticking?

Ruggedness, Reliability, Versatility

The C-130 was conceived to meet the U.S. military’s need for a tactical transport capable of delivering a large payload of troops and equipment over medium distances, landing and taking off on short, unimproved airstrips. The fact that it has performed that role exceptionally well constitutes for its phenomenal success. However, that is not all. There are well over 100 variations of the C-130, performing almost every mission imaginable including firefighting, rescue operations, ocean patrol, oil and mining industry applications, humanitarian aid and more. U.S. Special Forces have used the AC-130 gunship version to significant effect, and there’s talk of outfitting it with a laser weapon. Moreover, Lockheed has seen an ever-growing demand for the civilian version, the L-100.

The newest version, the C-130J Super Hercules, has brought a lot of new capabilities to the table, with advanced overhead displays, more powerful engines, improved defensive countermeasures, a greatly increased unrefueled maximum range, greater airspeed and the ability to takeoff on only about 60% of the runway distance required by earlier versions.

In addition, the C130 has been made legendary for also retaining the basic design, its rugged reliability and relatively low-cost to operate and maintain. The C-130 also boasts one of the lowest accident rates of any aircraft in the U.S. arsenal. It has truly proven itself capable of doing almost anything short of dogfighting.

Into The 21st Century

The C-130 is currently in use in more than 70 countries around the world. It has fought in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other small conflicts and police actions. It has flown to both the North and South poles, and seen service just about everywhere in between. It seems poised to remain the go-to workhorse aircraft of its type well into this young century.

History of the C-130: Part I

history of c-130 hercules

The C-130 Hercules, otherwise known as the “Herc,” is one of the most easily recognized and versatile aircraft around the world. The various models of the C-130 have flown in both combat and civilian missions, and the applications of the plane are practically endless. Additionally, the versatility of the aircraft and the legacy of its creators have made the C-130 into a staple of modern aviation and exploration. Since the aircraft has had so many different named configurations, ranging from the C-130A to the L-100, you need to understand the history behind the C-130’s concept design and why it has been so popular among both military and civilian officials.

Why Did the Air Force Need the C-130 Hercules?

In 1951, the United States Air Force (USAF) was heavily involved in the Korean War. Hostile areas and rough, dirt-only runways were making the USAF’s existing aircraft difficult to utilize fully. Moreover, existing aircraft were incapable of delivering the thousands of paratroopers, ground soldiers and supplies needed to continue the war effort. However, the problems continued as the large-scale needs were expanding in conjunction with the necessity of a low-altitude, high-lift transport. In fact, the aircraft’s namesake comes from the legendary 12 labors endured by the Greek demigod, Hercules.

Designing and Production of the “Herc” Begins and Slows.

Lockheed started working on prototype designs, with Lockheed basing those designs on existing aircraft made by the company. A “high-winged, four-engine design” from Lockheed, explains MilitaryFactory.com, was adjusted to meet the control and low-altitude needs of the USAF. On August 24, 1954, the first version of the C-130 Hercules, the “YC-130,” flew in a demonstration for the USAF. Impressed with its capabilities, the USAF ordered this series of aircraft, and by December 1956, the first deliveries of the C-130A began.

history of the c-130 us Air Force
Oscar C. Williams/Shutterstock.com

As seen in the photo above, the C-130 Hercules, has the 54H60 Propeller System, marked by the 4 blades. A propeller system that C&S Propeller has worked on for decades. Within three years, engineers updated the engines and maximized the efficiency of each of the four-bladed propeller units, which expanded the operational ranges of the C-130. As a result, production of this line, the C-130B began in 1959, and soon, the C-130B-II took on the duties of a reconnaissance mission, providing radar imaging and housing antenna equipment in “faux underwing fuel tanks,”. However, winter needs became apparent, and the C-130 was adapted again with landing skis for Arctic service to become the C-130D.

Lobbying Keeps the C-130 Hercules Relevant.

The Pentagon stopped ordering all C-130s 25 years after its production began due to a surplus of aircraft during the Carter administration. Meanwhile, the Air Force had begun a search for a more efficient, medium-sized aircraft for similar jobs. Rather than going silently into the recesses of history, Lockheed used a congressional add-on tactic to sell another fleet of 256 C-130s to the Air Force. While the Air Force may not have needed so many new aircraft, one congressional study did find that the Air Force would have ordered at least five C-130s regardless. Of course, part of this add-on was reinforced through extensive lobbying and company-spurred research studies that highlighted how useful the C-130 could be in virtually any situation.

 

First Flight of the C-130

The first C-130 was delivered in 1956 to Ardmore AFB, OK. The City of Ardmore wanted to refurbish the plane and return it to its original unit, the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing. At the time, they were at Dyess AFB, TX and this is where the plane rests for all to see.

Although some may make a case against the C-130 and Lockheed, the modern world would be missing a piece of its heart without this aircraft. It has a history as rich as that of the U.S. and the only way to ensure the legacy of the C-130 understands its origins and how to apply to destinations yet to be explored. So, naturally, you might start wondering how it is being used today, which we will discuss in Part II.