Georgia is home to one of the most versatile and rugged transport aircraft ever built: the C-130 Hercules. First flown in 1954, more than 2,200 of the aircraft have been produced in seventy different versions for sixty different countries. The latest model, the C-130J, remains in production at the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta.
With a wide fuselage, distinctive high tail, and multiwheeled landing gear, the C-130 can operate from virtually any runway,
The four-engine C-130 Hercules began after World War II (1941-45) with a government specification for a new type of cargo aircraft designed for rapid loading and unloading of soldiers, cargo,
Though the C-130J in production today resembles the C-130A that went into service in 1956, there are dramatic differences. The newest model relies heavily on computers and electronic displays. Its four Rolls-Royce turboprop engines turn six-bladed propellers that deliver significantly more power than earlier engines, allowing it to fly and climb faster, cruise at higher altitudes, and carry a larger payload.
More than 145 C-130s were used in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s. During the war against terrorism in Afghanistan (2001-2), C-130s again played a key role, with the gunship AC-130 model used for close support of ground troops.
Perhaps the most unusual mission ever envisioned for the aircraft involved modification of a C-130H to include downward-facing and forward-facing rockets that would have allowed it to land and take off almost like a helicopter. Had the plan been carried out, the aircraft would have landed and taken off inside a Tehran, Iran, soccer stadium to rescue U.S. hostages.
In the United States C-130 aircraft are used by the U.S. Air Force, the Air National Guard, the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and other government agencies. If the C-130J in production at the start of the twenty-first century provides a service life equivalent to earlier models, the C-130 design will be flying well into the 2030s, more than seventy years after it first left the drawing board.
John D. Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology
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