While the C-130 is cited as “one aircraft, many capabilities,” it can also be known as “one aircraft, many names.”
With missions as varied as combat delivery, Special Operations, aerial refueling, and humanitarian efforts, racking up names for this workhorse of the skies seems unavoidable, especially as the current C-130J extends the now 65+ year history of the original C-130. More than 70 countries currently operate the C-130, 21 countries operate or will operate the C-130J Super Hercules. With a truly worldwide presence, it makes sense that the venerable and beloved aircraft is called by many names.
In the beginning
In 1953, when the Hercules moved from Burbank, California to Marietta, Georgia, then-Lockheed management announced a Name-the-Plane contest in the Southern Star, the company’s weekly newspaper. Employees could submit entries for the new C-130 aircraft nickname and win savings bonds, trips, and flights.
More than 9,000 entries were submitted in a two-week period in July, with winners announced in November of the same year. A.A. Pommer won first prize, with the name “Griffin.” Pommer said this name meant, “Having the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion; a fabulous creation, a newcomer to the Lockheed family.”
While Griffin was deemed the first choice for the famous C-130, corporate management had other plans. They decided on “Hercules,” in relation to the airlifters many duties and Air Force involvement, and in keeping with the Lockheed tradition in naming aircraft after celestial bodies (Hercules is a constellation). Hercules was also submitted by over 160 employees in the contest, among them C.W. Flemister, Jr., who also was awarded top prize in the contest.
While the beloved C-130 could have been called Griffin, the Hercules nickname stuck and is still being used 66 years later.
Herc vs. Herk
The C-130’s followers fall into a battle between “Team Herc” or “Team Herk.” K or C? Depending on who you are talking to, one letter truly can make a big difference. The United States Marine Corps argues for the latter, as they have been calling their KC-130 aerial tankers “BattleHerks” for decades. The C-130 is the longest serving aircraft in Marine Corps history, and the Herk with a K is also popular among several air arms around the world. Lockheed Martin, as the C-130 contractor, refers to it as “Herc.” The use of “C” was formalized in through companywide decision four years ago.
One very special BattleHerk has not only its own nickname, but a very distinct branded paint scheme.
The C-130 support aircraft for the U.S. Navy Air Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, is called “Fat Albert” or “Bert” for short. The name is originated from the popular 1970s cartoon Fat Albert. The Blue Angels use Fat Albert for cargo and personnel transport to the team’s popular airshows.
Originally, a KC-130F and several others versions of C-130s, including one formerly used to communicate with submerged submarines via an extremely long trailing wire antenna, have served as “Fat Albert.” The newest Bert, a C-130J formerly flown by the Royal Air Force, will once again thrill crowds with its short-field takeoff and high and low-speed maneuvers at airshows, possibly later this year, but certainly in 2021.
Special Missions, Special Nicknames
Additionally, the specialized variants of the C-130 also picked up nicknames, sometimes officially because of a specific mission, sometimes as operator shorthand. The Pennsylvania Air National Guard flies the EC-130J psychological warfare variant of the Hercules known as “Commando Solo.” The most well-known use of the Commando Solo aircraft involved TV and radio broadcast directly to the Iraqi Republic Guard during Operation Desert Storm. The 193rd Special Operations Wing aircraft’s broadcasts resulted in the surrender of more than 15,000 Iraqis.
Further north, the New York Air National Guard refers to their ski-equipped LC-130H as “Ski Herks” due to resupply missions in Greenland and Antarctica. Ski Herks are equipped with Teflon-coated skis that weigh a ton apiece. This helps prevent aircraft from sticking while on the ice. These icy supply runs are important to deliver scientific equipment, supplies, medicine, people, and other resources in hard to reach places.
Global Fleet, Worldwide Nicknames
Halfway across the world, The Israeli Air Force (IAF) called its original C-130 “Karnaf,” which means “rhino” in Hebrew. When the IAF received its first new C-130J, they bestowed the name “Shimshon.” This nickname translates to “Samson,” a.k.a., Hercules in Hebrew.
Not so much a naming distinction but a designation distinction, the Royal Canadian Air Force calls its Hercules aircraft the CC-130J or “Canadian C-130J.” This follows a long-help designation tradition north of the United States border.
In 1969, the Royal Norwegian Airforce (RNAF) ordered a batch of six new C-130Hs. The RNAF’s new fleet was named after the mythological Norse gods: Odin, Tor, Balder, Frøy, Ty, and Brage. When the RNAF recapitalized its legacy C-130H fleet with four C-130Js in 2008, it continued the tradition of naming its C-130s, this time using the name of Norwegian Goddesses: Frigg (wife of Odin), Idunn (wife of Brage), Nana (wife of Balder) and Siv (wife of Tor). Unfortunately, Siv crashed during an exercise in Sweden and was replaced with Frøya (wife of Odr) in late 2012.
King of the Skies
Other popular Hercules nicknames in the United States Air Force include reference to previous famous aircraft or references. There is the HC-130J Combat King II, which is used in combat search and rescue and refueling rescue helicopter. The Air Force HC-130s have used the radio call sign of King since the Vietnam War.
The AC-130J Ghostrider gunship’s name came from the movie Top Gun and continues the tradition of giving gunships spectral names. Before Ghostrider, there was the AC-130A/E/H Specter and the AC-130U Spooky (which is a tip of the cap to the original AC-47 “Spooky gunship;” however, the so-called “U-boats” are not officially named Spooky II). Finally, the AC-130W Stinger II refers to the AC-119, which was another gunship used in Vietnam.
Moreover, the MC-130J Special Operations airlifter is known as Commando II. This nickname was inspired by the original World War II transport C-46 called Commando. Earlier MC-130s were known as Combat Talon I and Combat Talon II.
Overall, one almost needs a cheat sheet to keep up with the many nicknames for the C-130, both past and present. No matter the name or the spelling, one thing remains constant when it comes to C-130 nicknames: operators and countries use these names to assign special meaning to their aircraft because these C-130s are special to their missions.