C-130J Super Hercules: One Aircraft, Many Missions

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C-130 The million flight hour mark for the C-130J Super Hercules came slightly more than seventeen years after Lockheed Martin test pilots Lyle Schaefer and Bob Price took the first J-model aloft for the first time on 5 April 1996 from Dobbins ARB in Marietta, Georgia. That aircraft, an extended fuselage length Super Hercules, was delivered to the Royal Air Force after testing was completed.

In 1951, Willis Hawkins, the Lockheed engineer who would also instrumental in the design of the Polaris sea-launched ballistic missile, the Corona reconnaissance satellites, and the M1 Abrams main battle tank, led the Lockheed design team that produced the innovative C-130 Hercules transport.

In what turned out to be his last interview before passing away in late 2004 at age of 90, Hawkins called the Hercules one of his greatest successes: “The C-130 is not exactly an attractive aircraft. But it is still in production and still doing the job it was designed for. Originally, some questioned who would want to buy such an aircraft. Irv Culver, one of our engineers, said that if we make it right the first time, we could sell it to anybody. I think we must have done it exactly right.”

Indeed, the C-130J Super Hercules, the fifth major production model – and third-most produced – is demonstrating the basic design of this versatile transport was “exactly right.”

Today, the C-130J is flown by the U.S. Air Force (including Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard), the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard along with 15 countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and Australia. The seventeenth nation to operate the C-130J, France, is scheduled to receive its first aircraft in late 2017.

As of January 2017, the worldwide community of C-130J Super Hercules operators has accumulated more than 1.5 million flight hours, with several dozen hours being added each day. The one million flight hour milestone came in late April 2013, slightly more than 17 years after Lockheed Martin test pilots Lyle Schaefer and Bob Price took the first J-model aloft for the first time on 5 April 1996 from Dobbins ARB in Marietta, Georgia.

Roughly eighty percent of those flight hours are operational, and include combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hours also include worldwide humanitarian relief flights after major events such as Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) in the US and after tsunamis in the Indian Ocean (2004) and in Japan (2011).

Production of the C-130J continues at the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, Georgia, which has been the home of the Hercules since 1954. The production line, located in the plant’s 3.8-million-square-foot main assembly hall (known as Building B-1), was extensively renovated in 1995 specifically to build the C-130J more efficiently.

The production line is sized to accommodate production of up to 36 aircraft annually, although sales and delivery schedules have not required manufacture of more than 34 C-130Js in any one year. That peak production mark came in 2012. Assembly of about 24 aircraft per year is optimum.

The C-130 marked its sixth decade of production in 2014, the longest continuous, active military aircraft line in history. That span covers more than half of the history of powered flight. A total of 231 C-130As, 230 C-130Bs, 491 C-130Es, 1,202 C-130Hs, and nearly 375 C-130Js so far (with more than 80 aircraft on backlog) have come off the line in Marietta.

The Super Hercules

The C-130J Super Hercules is produced in two basic fuselage types, the standard length C-130J and the extended length C-130J-30, or what is more commonly known as a “stretch.” The designation C-130J is used to describe the Super Hercules generically.

The standard fuselage aircraft is 97 feet, 9 inches long and is used primarily for aerial tankers, personnel recovery/search and rescue, and Special Operations aircraft, although there are a few exceptions.

US Coast Guard The HC-130J Super Hercules is the long-range search and rescue variant flown by the US Coast Guard. The aircraft’s system includes automatic identification and direction-finding capabilities; long range, multimode radar electro-optical and infrared, or EO/IR, sensor turret that provides both imagery and target data; advanced open architecture mission system processor; and an extensive communications suite. The six HC-130Js are based at CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The Coast Guard HC-130Js were declared operational in 2008. Three additional HC-130Js are on order. In this image, an HC-130J crew (bottom) flies in formation with a legacy HC-130H repainted in the original Coast Guard livery.

The stretch aircraft, designated C-130J-30, has an additional fuselage segment forward and one aft of the wing and is 112 feet, 9 inches long. This version can accommodate up to eight standard 88-inch-by-108 inch 463L pallets. The stretch version is used primarily for cargo delivery, airdrop, personnel transport, and paratroop missions.

All C-130Js are equipped with a fully digital flight deck, including head-up displays. The combat delivery C-130Js can operate with a crew of three—pilot, copilot, and loadmaster, although many times a second loadmaster is carried. The navigator in the legacy C-130s (C-130A, B, E, and H) and the previous commercial variant, the L-100, is replaced by a dual inertial GPS/INS system and the need for a flight engineer is alleviated though a sophisticated computer system. Tanker and Special Operations variants are flown with additional crewmembers.

The Super Hercules is powered by 4,591 pshp Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 engines mated with a six-bladed Dowty R391 propeller with aerodynamically efficient scimitar-shaped blades. The combination of powerplant and propeller enables Super Hercules crews to fly longer range and carry more cargo, plus provides significantly reduced fuel burn.

More than 2,530 C-130s of all models have been delivered to 63 countries around the world since 1955, but the C-130 has flown under the flags of more than seventy countries when secondary sales, transfers, and commercial ownership are considered. The Hercules is currently flown under the flags of 68 nations.



The J Family

Since its service introduction in 1999, eight variants of the military C-130J have come off the assembly line, with five versions – and, now, the LM-100J commercial freighter – in production as of January 2017. Two additional C-130J variants are the result of modifications. The production line has been set up to allow concurrent production of multiple variants.

C-130J Super Hercules

This is the basic combat delivery/paratroop airlifter. Most of the combat delivery aircraft are the extended fuselage length aircraft. Many worldwide operators have opted for the Enhanced Cargo Handling System, or ECHS, which allows for rapid conversion from palletized loads to tie-down loads such as vehicles. This version also features an embedded tow winch in the cargo compartment and a ramp and cargo door outfitted for airdrops at 250 knots.

EC-130J Commando Solo II

Commando Solo is a specialized J-model variant flown by the 193rd Special Operations Squadron, the U.S. Air National Guard unit at Harrisburg International Airport, Pennsylvania. Recognizable by its tail-mounted and underwing antennas, the EC-130J contains high-powered AM/FM radio and TV broadcast equipment for psychological warfare operations. Seven aircraft were modified with five aircraft receiving the psyops mission equipment. Operations with the Commando Solo II began in 2004.

HC-130J Super Hercules

This HC-130J is the U.S. Coast Guard’s long range surveillance aircraft, also used to support search and rescue missions. The aircraft’s system includes automatic identification and direction-finding capabilities; long range, multimode radar electro-optical and infrared, or EO/IR, sensor turret that provides both imagery and target data; advanced open architecture mission system processor; and an extensive communications suite. The Coast Guard HC-130Js were declared operational in 2008. Eight HC-130Js are based at CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Two additional HC-130Js have been completed and are currently receiving their mission equipment. The Coast Guard holds options for two more aircraft.

KC-130J Super Hercules

The standard J-model tanker is the KC-130J flown by the US Marine Corps, Italy, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. The KC-130J has mostly replaced the KC-130F/R/T in the Marine Corps inventory and have a 57,500 pound fuel offload capacity. The first KC-130J combat deployment came in 2005. The Marines currently operate 53 KC-130Js. Operational aircraft are assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 (VMGR-252) at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina; VMGR-352 at MCAS Miramar, California; VMGR-152 at MCAS Futenma, Japan, and VMGR-234, the Marine Reserve unit at NAS Fort Worth JRB, Texas.

The Marine Corps also operates ten KC-130Js that have been modified to the Harvest HAWK, or Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit, configuration. This roll-on, roll-off modification (EO/IR sensor, quad-mount AGM-114 Hellfire missile launcher, internal AGM-175 Griffin missile launch tubes with ten missiles, and an internal computer control console) has been used to great effect in the armed surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance, or ISR, role in Afghanistan. Harvest HAWK-equipped aircraft are based at Cherry Point and Miramar. The Marines have six roll-on/roll-off Harvest HAWK mission packages that are rotated among the ten airframes.

C-130J Training for nearly all US and international C-130J aircrews and maintainers takes place at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. Instructors with the 48th Airlift Squadron at Little Rock are responsible for C-130J aircrew training.

HC-130J The HC-130J Combat King II is Air Combat Command’s dedicated fixed wing personnel recovery platform It is deployed to austere airfields and denied territory for expeditionary, all weather personnel recovery operations to include airdrop, airland, helicopter air-to-air refueling, and forward area ground refueling missions. Deliveries began in 2011. Operational Combat King II aircraft are currently assigned to the 79th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and the 71st RQS at Moody AFB, Georgia. The 415th Special Operations Squadron at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, the US Air Force’s Special Operations training unit, also operates HC-130Js. Photo by SSgt. Tim Chacon

KC-130J The standard J-model tanker is the KC-130J. The first U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J combat deployment came in 2005. The Marines currently have forty-six KC-130Js. The Marine Corps operates ten KC-130Js that have been modified to the Harvest HAWK, or Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit, configuration (as shown here) used to great effect in the armed surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance, or ISR, role in Afghanistan. Photo by Jeff Rhodes

WC-130J Weatherbird

Lockheed Martin upgraded 10 C-130Js to the WC-130J configuration as a post-production modification prior to delivery. These aircraft, assigned to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, are designed to fly into hurricanes and tropical storms to track and monitor storm conditions and movement on missions lasting 12 hours or longer. The Hurricane Hunters began operations with the WC-130J in 2003.

HC/MC-130J Special Mission Tanker

The HC-130J Combat King II and MC-130J Commando II are currently built as a common configuration, although the MC-130J, through upgrades and modifications, incorporate added capabilities and enhancements unit to the Air Force Special Operations Command, or AFSOC, mission that are not needed for Air Combat Command’s HC-130J Personnel Recovery mission. These aircraft currently support US Air Force mission requirements as they come off of the production line with no post-production modifications required. 

The HC-130J Combat King II is Air Combat Command’s dedicated fixed wing personnel recovery platform It is deployed to austere airfields and denied territory for expeditionary, all weather personnel recovery operations to include airdrop, airland, helicopter air-to-air refueling, and forward area ground refueling missions. Deliveries began in 2011. Operational Combat King II aircraft are currently assigned to the 79th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and the 71st RQS at Moody AFB, Georgia. The 211th RQS, the Alaska Air National Guard unit at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, in Anchorage, is scheduled to receive its first HC-130J in 2017. The 415th Special Operations Squadron at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, the US Air Force’s Special Operations training unit, also operates HC-130Js.

The MC-130J Commando II is replacing U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command’s MC-130N/P Combat Shadow fleet. The MC-130J is flown on clandestine (or low visibility) single and multi-ship low-level air refueling missions supporting Special Operations helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft, as well as infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of Special Operations Forces by airdrop or airland in politically sensitive or hostile territories. Delivery to the 522nd Special Operations Squadron at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, first operational unit, occurred in 2011. The 17th SOS at Kadena AB, Japan, and the 415th SOS at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, the US Air Force’s Special Operations training unit, also operate MC-130Js.

C-130 Relief Missions Roughly eighty percent of the C-130J fleet’s flight hours are operational, and include combat flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also include worldwide humanitarian relief flights after Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) in the US and after tsunamis in the Indian Ocean (2004) and in Japan (2011). This image shows a C-130J flown by the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein AB, Germany. Photo by SSgt. Brendan Stephens

The AC-130J Ghostrider gunship configuration incorporates the Precision Strike Package, which includes a mission management console, robust communications suite, two EO/IR sensors, advanced fire control equipment, precision guided munitions delivery capability (AGM-175 Griffin missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs) as well as trainable 30 mm and 105 mm weapons. The mission management system fuses sensor, communication, order of battle, and threat information into a common operating picture. This fourth generation gunship replaces the aging fleet of AC-130U/W gunships. The first AC-130J aircraft completed developmental test and evaluation in June 2015. Approximately 10 MC-130Js have been inducted into the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship modification program following their initial delivery with more than 25 additional inductions planned for MC-130Js currently on order.

LM-100J Super Hercules

The LM-100J is newest member of the Super Hercules family. Announced in 2014, the LM-100J is an updated version of the L-100 commercial freighter. More than 100 L-100s were built in Marietta from 1964-1992. The LM-100J will assume the tasks of legacy L-100s, but offers commercial operators the enhancements of the Super Hercules. The first LM-100J rolled out in February 2017 and first flight is scheduled for the second quarter of the year. This aircraft will be used in the FAA type certificate update program to re-qualify the platform (also known as a Model L-382J) per FAA guidelines. The C-130J was initially FAA certified at the beginning of the Super Hercules program in the late 1990s.

Advanced Development

Both the C-130XJ, a base model aircraft with J-model performance but with lower cost aimed at the export market, and the SC-130J Sea Hercules maritime patrol and long-range search and rescue aircraft are optional configurations that have been developed to support potential, future operator requirements.


Israel C-130J Israel formally received its first C-130J-30 in 2013, and after Israeli-specific modifications, was delivered in-country in 2014. The Israeli fleet, which currently consists of six aircraft, features an EO/IR turret under the nose, in addition to other special equipment. The Israeli aircraft are flown by 103 Squadron at Nevatim AB. Photo by John Rossino.
C-130 Production Line The C-130J production line is sized to accommodate production of up to 36 aircraft annually, although sales and delivery schedules have not required manufacture of more than 34 C-130Js in any one year. That peak production mark came in 2012. Assembly of about 24 aircraft per year is optimum. Photo by John Rossino.

Operators

The United States is the largest operator of C-130Js with nearly 260 aircraft of all types.

US Air National Guard units flying the combat delivery C-130J variant are the 143rd Airlift Squadron, the Rhode Island Air National Guard unit at Quonset Point, and the 146th AS, the California Air National Guard squadron at Channel Islands ANGS. When activated by the U.S. Forest Service, the 146th AW uses its C-130Js for aerial firefighting with the second generation Modular Aerial Firefighting System, or MAFFS 2.

The C-130J-30 is also flown by the active duty 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein AB, Germany; 41st AS at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas; and 39th AS and 40th AS at Dyess AFB, Texas. Dyess, with 28 assigned aircraft operates the largest C-130J fleet in the world. The 36th AS at Yokota AB, Japan, will begin C-130J-30 operations in 2017. The 815th AS, the Air Force Reserve Command unit at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, flies the short fuselage C-130J.

Training for nearly all US and international C-130J aircrews and maintainers takes place at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. Instructors with the 48th Airlift Squadron at Little Rock are responsible for C-130J aircrew training.

Three US Air Force C-130Js have been lost in accidents or destroyed. The first was destroyed on the ground after a hard landing in Afghanistan in 2013.

The United Kingdom was the launch customer for the C-130J. The first Royal Air Force aircraft was the first J-model to come off the assembly line (October 1995) and the first to get airborne (5 April 1996). The first RAF aircraft was delivered in 1998. The last of 25 stretch and short fuselage aircraft (called Hercules C. Mk. 4 and C. Mk. 5, officially) was delivered in 2000. The RAF C-130Js, used for combat delivery and special operations, are flown by crews from XXIV Squadron and 30 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton near Cambridge. One RAF aircraft was destroyed on the ground after a landing mishap in 2007.

Italy received the first of 22 stretch, short fuselage, and tanker J-models in 2000. Italy received the first C-130J receiver-tanker built, a tanker that can take on fuel itself. The Aeronautica Militare was the first air force to take the C-130J into combat in 2001. The Italian aircraft are assigned to the 46th Air Brigade at Pisa AB. One aircraft was lost during a training accident in 2009 and a second was withdrawn from use after being damaged while on deployment in 2014.

Denmark has four stretch combat delivery C-130Js assigned to Eskadrille 721 at Aalborg AB in northern Jutland. Royal Danish Air Force operations with the C-130J began in 2004.

Australia has a fleet of 12 combat delivery C-130J-30s flown by 37 Squadron at RAAF Richmond, near Sydney. The Royal Australian Air Force, which had flown the C-130B, E, and H models, began operations with the C-130J in 1999.

Norway has a fleet of four combat delivery C-130J-30s flown by 335 Squadron at Gardermoen AS, outside Oslo. Operations with the C-130J began in 2008. The Royal Norwegian Air Force named its Js after Norse goddesses—Frigg, Idunn, Nanna, and Siv (which was lost in a mishap in 2012). A C-130J intended for delivery to the US Air Force was transferred to RNoAF in 2012. That aircraft is named Frøya.

Canada has a fleet of 17 combat delivery C-130J-30s—designated CC-130J by the Royal Canadian Air Force—flown by 436 Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario. Operations began in 2010.

India now has a fleet of five combat delivery C-130J-30s operated by 77 Squadron at Hindan AFS, near Delhi. These aircraft are also fitted with an EO/IR sensor and can be used on Special Operations missions. The Indian Air Force began C-130J operations in 2011. One aircraft was lost in an accident in 2014. An additional six C-130J-30s are on order.

Among Middle East countries, Qatar has a fleet of four combat delivery C-130Js flown by 12 Transport Squadron at Doha International Airport. Operations with the C-130J began in 2012. Oman received one C-130J for its Royal Flight in 2012, and that aircraft is based in Muscat; two additional combat delivery support aircraft are flown by 16 Squadron, Royal Air Force of Oman in 2013. Iraq received six combat delivery C-130Js in 2013 that are flown by the 23rd Transport Squadron at New Al Muthana AB; and Kuwait has three KC-130J tanker aircraft that were delivered in in 2014. Those aircraft are assigned to 41 Transport Squadron at Abdullah Al-Mubarak AB. Saudi Arabia currently flies two KC-130J tankers. 32 Squadron, based at Riyadh, began KC-130J operations in 2016.

In Africa, Tunisia operates two combat delivery C-130Js that are flown by 21 Squadron at El-Aouina in Tunis. The first Tunisian aircraft was delivered in 2013.

Israel formally received its first C-130J-30 in 2013, and after Israeli-specific modifications, was delivered in-country in 2014. The Israeli fleet, which currently consists of six aircraft, features an EO/IR turret under the nose, in addition to other special equipment. The Israeli aircraft are flown by 103 Squadron at Nevatim AB.

South Korea has four combat delivery C-130J-30s. Republic of Korea Air Force C-130J operations began in 2014.

France placed an order for four Super Hercules in 2016. The first aircraft, a KC-130J tanker is scheduled for delivery in late 2017.

Written by Jeff Rhodes, editor of Code One.