ON AUGUST 23, 1954, LOCKHEED TEST PILOTS Stan Beltz and Roy Wimmer powered up the latest of their company’s improbable designs, and after an 855-foot ground roll, pulled it up into the southern California sky on its first flight, bound for Edwards Air Force Base. Designated the YC-130A, the new airplane was the second of two prototypes built at Lockheed’s Burbank plant. The aircraft looked nothing like its contemporaries. Its wings lay like a plank balanced on beefy shoulders. Power came not from great reciprocating radials but four General Motors Allison turboprops. Its aft fuselage sharpened to form a wedge capped by an enormous vertical fin. Its narrow landing gear dropped out of pods on the fuselage. Its flight deck lay beneath a multi-pane greenhouse and above a beak-like nose. It had an earnest, surprised, round face that only, as some have opined, a mother could love.
U.S. Air Force aerial weather reconnaissance began a new era in 1962 when the Air Weather Service received its first Lockheed WC-130 Hercules. Over the intervening years, the Air Force and Air Force Reserve have operated 51 WC-130s: Three A-models; 17 B-models; six E‑models, 15 H‑models, and ten new J‑models.
WC-130s have served all over the world, from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the forests of central Europe, from the islands of the Caribbean and the South Pacific to far above the Arctic Circle, from Japan to the Azores to Australia to the West Indies to China to the Middle East.
The primary mission of the WC-130 has been that of tropical storm reconnaissance, but there have been other, no less demanding operations, such as atmospheric sampling, rain-making, fog-seeding,9 winter storm reconnaissance, and the air-drop of Christmas gifts. They have suffered the pounding of torrential rain, gut-wrenching turbulence, and the indignity of battle damage. They have carried their crews through the boredom of synoptic reconnaissance, over the murky jungles of Southeast Asia, and through blinding snow squalls of the worst winter nor’easter.
This is a meager attempt to chronicle the history of these aircraft. They are presented here in the order that they were obtained by the Air Force.
The First B-Models
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now? _____
3702 62-3492 Sold to Pakistan ca. 1985; still flying 2015
3707 62-3493 Hill AFB as a battle damage trainer
3708 62-3494 Sold to Pakistan ca. 1985; crashed 17 Aug 1988
3721 62-3495 Sold to Tunisia, January 1998; now for sale in Abu Dhabi
3722 62-3496 Sold to Turkey, Aug 1992; still flying as of 2015
The C-130 had been coveted by the Air Weather Service since it was first introduced in 1955. It was the ideal long-range reconnaissance aircraft, and a perfect replacement for the aging WB-29s then in service. AWS was thus deeply disappointed in mid-1956 when it learned that the Air Staff had approved the transfer of 66 B-50 aircraft to AWS to be modified to WB-50. Even though AWS enjoyed a high priority due to its success at radiation sampling and hurricane reconnaissance, the mission simply did not warrant the procurement of brand new aircraft.
After a grueling and deadly six years with the WB‑50, AWS was finally granted authority to purchase five new C‑130Bs, purpose-built at the factory for atmospheric sampling1. They were delivered to the 55th WRS at McClellan in October and December of 1962, and were immediately put to work flying daily reconnaissance tracks over the Pacific. After a brief period of OT&E, they were dispersed across the Pacific, one each to the 54th, 56th, and 57th WRS’, with the 55th keeping two, one at McClellan, the other at Eielson.
The five were modified for weather reconnaissance with the AN/AMR‑1 Dropsonde Recording System2 at WRAMA in 1965 and were transferred to the 53rd WRS, then at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. The 53rd wasted no time in putting their new Herks to work, recording the first hurricane penetration by a WC-130 on 27 August of that year. (Since that time, the 53rd has logged thousands of hurricane penetrations in the WC-130 without mishap.)
All five B-models were again modified in 1970-71 under Project Seek Cloud3. 62-3492, which had become something of a guinea pig for the WC-130 fleet, was further modified with the prototype Kaman Aerospace Advanced Weather Reconnaissance System4 (AWRS) in 1972.
As delivered, these B-models were a natural aluminum finish with full color markings and “day-glo” red panels on the nose, upper wings, and tail surfaces. After modification in 1965, they were painted the standard MAC light gray, again with full-size color markings and a variety of MAC, AWS, and Squadron emblems and designations. They remained in this livery until conversion to transport.
As a result of a number of HC-130H aircraft becoming available to AWS in 1972, the five original B‑models were “traded in” and converted to standard transport versions. 62-3496 was converted in 1974, and ‑3493, ‑3494, and ‑3495 were converted in late 1976. 62-3492 remained a WC-130 until 1979, as she was the only Herk equipped with the AWRS.
62-3494 was sold to Pakistan in 1985. On 17 August 1988, this aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from Bahawalpur Airport, killing the Pakistani president and several senior military officers. It is suspected that the aircraft was sabotaged or shot down by Pakistani dissidents.
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now? _____
3659 61-2360 Scrapped, Sept ‘01, Tucson, AZ
3688 61-2365 Still For Sale at Snow Aviation, Columbus, Ohio
3706 61-2366 Scrapped at Tucson, ca. 2010
4047 64-0552 Sold to Belgium, 2008, still flying 2016
4048 64-0553 Scrapped Apr ‘01
4049 64-0554 Scrapped 2010 at Tucson
Having proven the worth of the C-130 as a sampling and reconnaissance platform, AWS asked for and received 6 more, in 1965. 61-2360, 61-2365, and 61-2366 were transferred from TAC, and 64‑0552, 64‑0553, and 64-0554 were brand new. They were modified for weather re-connaissance2 at WRAMA. All six were delivered to AWS in 1965, and trans-ferred to the 54th WRS, Andersen AFB, Guam, that same year. In 1967 they were sent to Lockheed-Marietta for the addition of the atmospheric sampling sys-tem, and then returned to the 54th where they remained through mid-1972. For the following fifteen years all of them would transfer ‘round and ‘round amongst the 53rd, 54th, and 55th squadrons, wherever the operational demand was greatest. After the 54th closed in 1987, all six Es were reunited at the 53rd WRS, then at Keesler AFB, Mississippi.
Great shot of -0554 [Grant Matsuoka photo]
In 1989, all the E-models were modified once again with the Improved Weather Reconnaissance System (IWRS)8 which had finally reached operational status after three years of testing and evaluation. At the same time, the atmospheric sampling infrastructure was removed from these aircraft, thus ending forever that capability of the WC‑130.
In 1991 the 53rd was deactivated, and all six Es were transferred to the 815th Weather Reconnaissance “Flight” of the 815th TAS, 403rd TAW, an Air Force Reserve unit at Keesler. (For a time the 815th Flight was designated as the 920th Weather Reconnaissance Group.)
In 1993, the 53rd WRS Hurricane Hunters were re-activated as an Air Force Reserve entity at Keesler, and assumed all weather reconnaissance duties, aircraft, and personnel from the 815th. At that time, four C‑130H aircraft of the 815th AS, which had previously been WC-130s, were re-converted to the type, and the six E‑models were granted a well-deserved retirement in the Arizona sunshine.
As this is written, -2365 is still sitting idle (missing a prop) and for sale at Snow Aviation in Columbus, Ohio (last I heard, they’ll sell it to ya for $10-million). ‑0552 was sold to Belgium in 2008 and is flying with the Belgian Air Force, wearing the designation CH-14 (Once in a while a picture of her pops up on Facebook). -2360 and ‑0553 were scrapped in 2001, and -2366 and -0554 were both scrapped ca. 2010. -0554 was subjected to the indignity of ABDR training for several years, which means she was shot full of holes so troops could learn how to fix ‘em. She deserved a better end.
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now?
3127 56-0519 Last seen at Tan Son Nhut in 1999, a derelict
3130 56-0522 Scrapped ca. 2007
3145 56-0537 Scrapped ca. 2008
Few aviation writers and historians seem to be aware that there were three WC-130As. These three were originally trash-haulers, borrowed from TAC in late 1966 for use in Operation “Popeye”, the rain-making mission in Southeast Asia, set to begin the following year. The intent of the mission was to create enough year-round rain to keep the Ho Chi Minh trails impassable with mud5. Tests were conducted over Laos in 1966, and the operational missions began in March of 1967 from Udorn RTAFB, Thailand. They were flown by crews of the 54th WRS, rotated on a regular basis from Guam. In addition, 54th crews were sometimes called upon to conduct synoptic weather reconnaissance from Udorn over various areas of Southeast Asia.
56-0522 at Andersen, 1970 (TCR photo
The A-models were modified for weather reconnaissance, probably at WRAMA, with the Landers, Frary, & Clark AN/AMR‑1 Radiosonde Receptor system2. They were not configured for atmospheric sampling. Two were kept at Udorn, with the third rotating to and from Guam for maintenance, repair, and crew changes, from June 1967 through late 1970. When the third one was not enroute to/from Thailand, it was used as required for normal weather reconnaissance activities from Guam.
(I flew my first penetration into Typhoon Patsy aboard 56-0522, on 14 Nov 1970. We did not know at the time that Patsy would have an influence on the Son Tay POW rescue mission a week later).
In late 1970/early 1971, the A’s were replaced with three 1958 B-models, and the rain-making mission continued through mid-1972 with whichever B- or E-models were available from the 54th. After re-conversion to transport, the As were transferred to Air Force Reserve units. During their brief stint as rain-makers, they flew a total of 1435 “combat” sorties, and it is reported that at least one of them received battle damage.
All three A-models wore the standard Southeast Asia camouflage colors and markings, but with no permanent unit designations of any kind.
In 1973, 56-0519 was given or loaned to the South Vietnamese Air Force, and it became one of the spoils of war on April 30, 1975. The last reliable sighting was in April of 1999, which reported her corroded and derelict at Tan Son Nhut Airport, Ho Chi Minh City. I suspect she’s a pile of rust by now. 56-0522 finished out her life as a trash hauler and later a ground trainer at Kelly AFB. She was scrapped in 2007. 56-0537 hauled trash with the ANG until 1989. Records then show she was owned by Roy D. Reagan, President Reagan’s brother. In 1991 it was sold or leased and sold again to a variety of firms until being scrapped in 2008.
The "New-Old" B-Models
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now? _____
3520 58-0725 Sold to the Philippine Air Force, 1995; retired 1996
3521 58-0726 Sold to the Colombian Air Force, 1992; still active 2016
3524 58-0729 Scrapped May 2002
3526 58-0731 Sold to the South African Air Force, Oct 1997; still active 2016
3528 58-0733 Sold to the Ecuadorian Air Force 1992, retired 1999
3530 58-0734 Sold to the South African Air Force, Jan 1998; active 2016
3537 58-0740 Destroyed at Homestead AFB by Hurricane Andrew6
3538 58-0741 Sold to the Argentinean Air Force ca 1992; derelict 2002
3539 58-0742 Sold to Botswana, 1999; still active 2016
3545 58-0747 Sold to the Philippine Air Force Sep 1997; retired 2003
3551 58-0752 Sold to the Chilean Air force ca 1992; scrapped 2008
3559 58-0758 Sold to Bolivia 1994; crashed 2000
Despite the damage and death caused by Hurricane Camille in 1969, there was one positive side-effect: she was a wake-up call to Congress. As a result, $8-million was appropriated to obtain more aircraft for the weather recon fleet, and upgrade all of them with state-of-the-art equipment. The Air Force dubbed the effort Project “Seek Cloud”.
58-0747 at Hickam, 1971 (TCR photo)
Under Project Seek Cloud, twelve 1958-series C-130Bs were obtained from PACAF. They were old, and some were not in great shape, but a tired C‑130 is still the equal of almost any other airplane. All twelve were modified for weather reconnaissance at WRAMA in 1970‑71 with the installation of the Seek Cloud equipment suite.3 None of them were configured for atmospheric sampling.
58-0731, a.k.a. NOAA’s Ark [NOAA photo]
Only eleven of these B‑models kept their blue suits, however. 58‑0731 was given a temporary duty assignment to the civilian sector, with NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division. It was first re-numbered N6541C, then N8037, and was nicknamed NOAA’s Ark. It served NOAA proudly for eleven years as a hurricane research aircraft. Re-converted to transport in 1981, she then served with the Texas, Ohio, and Kentucky Air National Guards before retiring in 1992. She was later sold to South Africa, where she still serves.
Three of the B-models (58-0729, ‑0742, and ‑0747) went to Guam to replace the 54th’s A‑models, and the remaining eight went to the 53rd, then at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. (The 53rd had given up three of its 1962 B‑models to the 55th in 1970. After receiving the eight 1958 B‑models, the 53rd gave up the other two 1962 B‑models to the 54th, in 1972.)
In an effort to improve the radar capability of the WC-130s, 58-0725 (along with 62-3495) received a prototype forward-looking weather radar in 1972. Additionally, ‑0725 received prototype side-looking weather radar, installed where the forward cargo door had been. This aircraft was conspicuous by a large black panel on the port fuselage just forward of the wing. The performance of both radar sets was considered unsatisfactory, but the cost to develop a new system was prohibitive. The C‑130s search radar has been upgraded over the years, however, and is apparently sufficient for the weather mission.
58-0725 with side-looking radar (A.I.R. photo)
All the 1958 B-models were painted in the standard MAC light gray with full color markings. NOAA’s Ark was painted white over gray with a blue cheat line while serving with NOAA, and carried the appropriate civil registrations and NOAA symbols.
The 1958 B-models enjoyed only a short tour with AWS. By 1973 the Air Force had approved the swap of all WC‑130Bs (including the five 1962 models) for 15 HC-130Hs from the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service (ARRS). The B-models were gradually de-modified to trash haulers and found new homes in Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units. By the 1990s, most of them had been sold to foreign governments, except 58-0729 and 58‑0740. 58-0729 was scrapped in 2002. 58-0740 was severely damaged at Homestead AFB during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but the fuselage was salvaged for use as a loading trainer. 58-0758 was sold to the Bolivian Air Force in 1994, and crashed on takeoff from Chimorre in 2000.
58-0729, preparing to evacuate Guam in the face of Typhoon Amy, 3 May 1971 [TCR photo]
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now? _____
4088 64-14861 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4099 64-14866 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4103 65-0963 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4104 65-0964 Retired to Davis Monthan
4106 65-0965 Disappeared in the South China Sea, 12Oct74 7
4107 65-0966 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4108 65-0967 was to be converted to EC-130H; now in limbo
4110 65-0968 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4111 65-0969 CFB Trenton, Ontario; ground trainer, ca. Aug 2000
4120 65-0972 Scrapped 2005, cockpit to MN ANG
4126 65-0976 Retired to AMARC, January 2016
4127 65-0977 Transferred to NASA, 2016
4132 65-0980 GA ANG; maybe to Puerto Rico
4139 65-0984 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4140 65-0985 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
As mentioned previously, 15 HC-130H aircraft of the ARRS were made available to AWS in 1972. (Although designated as H-models, they were actually E-models with upgraded engines.) Eleven were converted to WC-130H and delivered between June 1973 and July 1974. Four more were modified in 1975. All were modified with the Project Seek Cloud equipment; none were configured for air sampling. Initially they all retained the dorsal radome of the Rescue type, though that vestige disappeared as the years went by. All still retain the angular nose radome that was unique to the rescue variant.
65-0980 taking off from Keesler [USAF Photo]
In 1983, NOAA contracted with Tracor, Inc., for $2.4 million for development of two prototype Improved Weather Reconnaissance Systems (IWRS, also known as “I-Wars”).8 USAF contributed about a third of the money. WC-130H 65‑0968 received a prototype IWRS in 1985. Three years of operational testing and evaluation followed, whence the remainder of the WC-130 fleet was equipped with the production version. All WC-130s still carry modified and upgraded versions of this reconnaissance data system. In 1998, however, the Omega Dropwindsonde system, which was based on the Omega navigation network, was replaced with AVAPS (Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System), developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Latest updates to this system now utilize lightweight digital radiosondes and GPS for positioning and windfinding.
Color schemes on the H-model varied over the years. The standard light gray with full color markings was the norm. Most had the dorsal radome painted white, though some have been seen with a black dorsal radome at times. Four that had been converted to “trash-hauler” with the 815th in 1990 were painted in the “lizard” camouflage scheme, and remained in that cloak for some time after re-conversion to WC‑130 in 1993.
In August, 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida, and sent another wake-up call to Congress. In their wisdom, they determined that the WC-130 fleet had become a little long in the tooth. Despite deep cuts in the defense budget, funding was appropriated for ten new WC-130Js (at roughly $60-million each), and Congress has mandated that the 53rd WRS continue its mission with the latest in aircraft and equipment.10
As usual, the 53rd WRS wasted no time in putting their new birds to work. On 16 Nov 1999, 96‑5301 made fourteen penetrations of Hurricane Lennie during a 14-1/2 hour mission. All systems, it was reported, were “Alpha‑1”. After a couple years of “teething” problems with the J, the 53rd has fully vetted them now, and the ten are operating all over the world in support of U.S and international weather reconnaissance and research.
Indications are that the WC‑130J will be the most capable and sophisticated military aircraft ever dedicated to the weather reconnaissance mission. It will be the mainstay of this country’s hurricane reconnaissance fleet through 2030 and probably beyond. The J represents a new era in hurricane reconnaissance, and a new commitment by the government to provide the best technology available for the “Riders On The Storm”.
There was a rumor going about in 2012 that India had requested a proposal from Lockheed for two WC-130Js, but I’ve not heard anything about that since then.
99-5309, the last of ten WC-130Js delivered (USAF photo)
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there had been at least one other “WC-130” operating in the world. That would be the U.K.’s Snoopy, Lockheed c/n 4233, originally an RAF C-130K. It was re-designated Hercules W. Mk 2 and modified for weather research with an 18-ft instrumentation boom protruding from the nose. This necessitated that the radar antenna be relocated to a pod attached to a pedestal above the cockpit. Surely this is one of the most unusual of all C-130 variants, and possibly the most photographed. Alas, Snoopy was honorably retired by the RAF in April of 2001.
Abbreviations and acronyms
ABDR....... Aircraft Battle Damage Repair
AFB............ Air Force Base
AFRC........ Air Force Reserve Command
AFRES...... Air Force Reserves
AFSOC….Air Force Special Operation Command
AFTAC..... Air Force Technical Application Center
AMARC... Aircraft Maintenance and
..................... Regeneration Center (D-M AFB)
ANG......... Air National Guard
ARRS......... Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service
ARWO...... Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer
AS............... Airlift Squadron
AVAPS..... Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System
AWRS....... Advanced Weather Reconnaissance System
AWS........... Air Weather Service
C/N........... Constructor’s Number
DOD......... Department of Defense
IWRS......... Improved Weather Reconnaissance System
MAC............ Military Airlift Command
NCAR......... National Center for Atmospheric Research
NOAA........ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
PACAF....... Pacific Air Forces (of USAF)
RAF.............. Royal Air Force
RQS............. Rescue Squadron (the ‘Q’ is silent)
RTAFB........ Royal Thai Air Force Base
SEA.............. Southeast Asia
TAC............. Tactical Air Command
TAS.............. Tactical Airlift Squadron
TAW............ Tactical Airlift Wing
USAF........... United States Air Force
WRALC...... Warner-Robins Air Logistics Center
WRAMA.... Warner-Robins Air Materiel Area
WRS............. Weather Reconnaissance Squadron
WRW........... Weather Reconnaissance Wing
U.K.............. United Kingdom
1) The Atmospheric Sampling equipment consisted of:
• Two U-1 air collection “Foils”, located on either side of the cargo compartment just aft of the flight deck. These were approximately 6 feet long by about 2 feet in diameter in the middle, Each contained a “juke-box” style filter-changing mechanism, which held a dozen 18” paper filters in wire screens. When the inlet door was opened, the paper filters captured particulate matter in the air as the airstream passed through the foil.
Photo by TCR
• The I-2 sampling foil, a smaller intake used to continuously monitor outside air to “sniff” for hot spots; The intake and exhaust ports of this device were built into the starboard lower fuselage just under the starboard U-1 Foil.
• The “P”-System, a palletized 4-compressor system that was mounted on the floor of the cargo area. It collected whole air samples from the aircraft bleed-air system, and compressed the air into steel bottles for later analysis.
The above equipment was controlled by the sampling console, mounted to the floor of the cargo bay on the starboard side just aft of the forward bulkhead (FS245). The equipment was usually operated by an AFTAC technician.
All of the Atmospheric Sampling equipment (except for the I-2 Foil) was easily removable and was rarely installed unless mission requirements called for it. It was completely independent of the weather reconnais-sance system.
2) The state of the art in weather reconnaissance equipment in the 1960s was the Landers, Frary & Clark AN/AMR‑1 “Radiosonde Receptor”, a one-box tube-type receiver designed to record the data from the Bendix AN/AMT‑6 dropsonde. The system recorded strictly “raw” data on a strip chart, which was then converted into code groups by the dropsonde operator. The ARWO then transmitted this data by voice to ground stations.
Photo by TCR
3) The Project “Seek Cloud” modification included the following equipment:
• The AN/APN-42 Radar Altimeter, AN/AMQ-28 Rosemount Total Temperature System, and the AN/AMQ-19 Dropsonde receiver and vertical sub-system control panel, all of which had been removed from retired WB-47s;
• The AN/AMQ-29 Dropsonde Data Record-ing System, a.k.a. the Hewlett-Packard 9206A System, consisting of several pieces of off-the-shelf test equipment configured to record and quantify signals from the dropsonde receiver;
• HP 9100B Desktop Programmable Calculator; (far right, covered)
Photo by TCR
• The AN/AMQ-31 Dropsonde Dispenser, designed around the existing AN/AMT-13 Radiosonde
. The dispenser is a marvel of engineering simplicity: two telescoping tubes, with a big spring in the top, and an electrically actuated trap-door at the bottom.
After the ‘sonde is loaded as shown, the upper half of the tube is lowered and locked, compressing the spring against the top of the ‘sonde. The push of a button opens the trap door and the ‘sonde is on its way.
Photo by TCR
• The AN/AMQ-34 Cambridge Optical Dewpoint Hygrometer;
• Barnes Engineering PRT-5 Infrared Sea-Surface Temperature
• Three dual-channel strip chart recorders to collect wind speed and direction data, ambient dew point, sea-surface temperature, pressure altitude and radar altitude.
These, along with controllers for the hygrometer and sea-surface thermometer, were installed in a new Weather Officer’s console on
the flight deck.
Photo by TCR
4) In the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969, the Air Force and the Commerce Department launched a joint effort to develop an advanced storm reconnaissance data collection system. In May, 1971, Kaman Aerospace was awarded over $7‑million to develop the Advanced Weather Recon-naissance System (AWRS, later designated the AN/AMQ‑32). After a cost over-run of some $2.5 million, Kaman installed the prototype system on 62-3492 in early 1972. The system was installed just behind the forward bulkhead on the starboard side of the cargo bay. (NOAA’s Ark may have also carried this system, but the records are unclear.)
AWRS - USAF Photo
Political infighting between the Air Force, DOD, and the Commerce Dept. delayed the implementation of a production system until the design was obsolescent, so the Air Force and Commerce Dept. started over with a new plan that resulted in the IWRS. (see note 8)
5) The best published discussion of the rain-making effort in Southeast Asia is found in John Fuller’s Thor’s Legions. Fuller and Charles Bates briefly discussed this activity in their earlier work, America’s Weather Warriors. An article on the 1966 test missions over Laos can be found in the December 1997 issue of VIETNAM magazine. There are some brief articles and discussions on the internet, but precious little else has ever been seen about this intriguing and controversial operation. Lots of people know about it, but no one is talking, even now, 44 years later.
6) Isn’t it ironic that a former hurricane hunter aircraft should be destroyed on the ground by a hurricane? Even though 58‑0740 was damaged beyond economical repair, the fuselage was salvaged and is being used as a loading trainer at Homestead AFB.
7) 65-0965 had only recently arrived at the 54th WRS on Guam after having been converted to WC‑130H. On 12 Oct 1974, “Swan 38” departed Clark Air Base in the Philippines on a recon of Typhoon Bess in the South China Sea. The last radio contact was at about 10 p.m., when their position was approximately 400 miles northwest of Clark. An investigation board later speculated the crew was on the final leg inbound to make a second fix when they encountered some catastrophic problem. No emergency communications were received. Sea conditions at the time were such that a successful ditching was highly unlikely. Four days of relentless searching by rescue aircraft and two surface ships proved unsuccessful, and the six crewmen were declared missing and presumed dead. The callsign “Swan 38” was retired and a plaque honoring the crew was affixed to the squadron building at Andersen. (said plaque is now on display at Kirtland AFB, NM).
The crew members, carried on AWS rolls as Killed In Action, were:
Capt Edward R. Bushnell 1Lt Gary W. Crass 1Lt Michael P. O’Brien
1Lt Timothy J. Hoffman Tsgt Kenneth G. Suhr Sgt Detlef W. Ringler
They are the only crewmembers to be lost in 50 years of tropical storm reconnaissance with the C-130.
May they rest in Peace.
8) As stated earlier, the IWRS resulted from the aborted AWRS. The system consisted of three major sub-systems:
• The Atmospheric Distributed Data System (ADDS) records and computes flight level meteorological data from various angle-of-attack probes, the radar altimeter, the pressure altimeter, ambient temperature and dewpoint sensors, and navigation data. This subset is the “horizontal” part of the system.
Photo by TCR
• The Omega Dropsonde Windfinding System (ODWS) processed the temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction data received from a dropsonde as it fell to the ocean. The ‘sonde determined wind vectors and position via signals from the Omega navigation system. The system automatically processed and formatted the received data into standard format messages and relayed the data to the National Hurricane Center via satellite link. This comprised the “vertical” part of the system;
• SATCOM, the Satellite Communication system, provides a rapid means of communicating critical weather data to the National Hurricane Center or other ground stations in real time.
Since the elimination of the Omega navigation system in 1997, The Omega system components of the IWRS have been replaced by AVAPS, which uses lightweight digital radiosondes with integral GPS receivers for windfinding and positioning. New processing hardware in the dropsonde operator’s console includes a personal computer, color monitor, new narrow band receiver, GPS processors, and radiosonde interface circuitry. Another significant advantage of the system is its ability to track and record data from four radiosondes simultaneously.
AVAPS was incorporated into all WC-130H aircraft in 1998. However, the installation in the new J-model has the ARWO pallet and the Dropsonde Operator pallet side by side at the forward end of the cargo compart-ment, just aft of the forward bulkhead (FS245), with the dropsonde pallet facing forward and the ARWO pallet facing aft. The dropsonde dispenser has also been moved to a central location just aft of the dropsonde console. The pallets and dispenser can easily be removed to make room for normal cargo transportation, if the need arises.
9) In the mid-1960s, Elmendorf AFB, near Anchorage, Alaska, and Rhein-Main AB, near Weisbaden, Germany, were critical to USAF operations in Europe and the Pacific. These bases were located in areas that were very susceptible to “super-cooled” or frozen fog, and anytime these bases were fogged in, it created serious disrupt-tions to USAF mission scheduling.
Scientists had discovered years before that seeding this type of fog with powdered dry ice would clear the fog by creating snow. Many experiments were performed to develop an appropriate seeding method, and eventually a suitable crusher was developed. The task of clearing the fog at these bases was given to the Air Weather Service.
Therefore, from 1966 through 1972, the 54th WRS packed up and moved to Elmendorf for the seeding season, which usually began in November and ended in mid-February. Likewise, the 53rd WRS conducted similar operations in Germany.
Photo by TCR
The ice crusher was a massive, roaring, clattering monster that literally hammered 10-pound blocks of dry ice into powder...
Photo by TCR
The dry ice was kept in insulated ice chests which were strapped to the cargo deck. Each 10-pound block was loaded into the crusher by hand. Here, dropsonde operator Jeffrey Proulx demonstrates the loading process...
Photo by TCR
The end result is powdered dry ice that merely drops through the hole where the dropsonde dispenser had been, and scatters in the wake turbulence of the aircraft. The dry ice caused frozen fog particles to join together, and the resultant heavier particles fell to the ground as snow, thus clearing the fog. It was a very successful, though expensive, operation. Later, other cheaper methods were developed to dissipate the fog, but none, so I’m told, have been quite as dramatically successful.
10) From the FY1997 Appropriations bill:
“Sec. 8041. None of the funds appropriated or made available in the Act shall be used to reduce or disestablish the operation of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force Reserve, if such action would reduce the WC-130 Weather Reconnaissance mission below the levels funded in this act.”
From the FY1998 House Appropriations Subcommittee Budget Summary:
"WC-130. The Committee continues to strongly believe that the weather reconnaissance mission is critical to the protection of Defense installations and the entire population living along the east and Gulf coasts of the United States. The level specifically funded in this Act is to support a stand-alone squadron with dedicated 10 PAA aircraft, 20 line assigned aircrews, evenly divided between Air Reserve Technician (ART) and Reserve aircrews. The Committee directs the Air Force to provide a minimum of 3,000 flying hours to perform tropical cyclone and winter storm reconnaissance missions, aircrew training, counterdrug support, and airland missions in support of contingency operations during the non-hurricane season or slow periods during the season. The Committee is aware that advancements in two pilot cockpit technology do not provide an adequate margin of safety in the unique and dangerous hurricane reconnaissance missions that range from tropical storms to category 5 hurricanes which have winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. The Committee is pleased that the Air Force agrees with user recommendations to include a fully equipped augmented crew station to be manned by a navigator in all WC‑130J aircraft and directs that the final operational requirements document reflect this decision."
Sources For Whiskey-Charlie
• This work would not have been possible without Lars Olausson’s Lockheed Hercules Production List,
which Lars published every year for about 30 years, and Bob Daley’s current similar effort, published
and updated a couple times a year on the internet.
• Thor’s Legions, Weather Support to the U.S. Air Force and Army, 1937-1987, by John F. Fuller, 1990;
• America’s Weather Warriors, by Charles C. Bates and John F. Fuller, 1986;
• Air Weather Service: Our Heritage 1937-1987, by Rita M. Markus, Nicholas F. Halbeisen, and John F.
Fuller, Military Airlift Command, 1987;
• USAF Aerial Reconnaissance Using the Lockheed WC-130 Aircraft, by Capt. Rodney Henderson,
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 1978;
• The Hurricane Hunters, Gary Frey, Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society, Spring 1980;
• Colors & Markings of the C-130 Hercules, Vol. 7, Special Purpose Aircraft, by Ray Leader;
• Flying the Weather, The Story of Air Weather Reconnaissance, Otha C. Spencer, 1996;
• The Weather War, Craig Stevaux, Vietnam Magazine, December 1997;
• World Airpower Journal, Volumes 6, 7, 8, and 18;
• Correspondence with Maj. Valerie Schmid, MSgt Robert E. Lee, and TSgt David Blackmon of the
53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler AFB, Mississippi;
• Correspondence with Lars Olausson, Herky Nut Emeritus, Såtenäs, Sweden;
• Correspondence with Ms. Lil Wilbur, Mr. John Fuller, and Ms. Rita Markus, former AWS Historians;
• Correspondence with Jerry White of the Air Force Weather Agency Office of History;
• Corrections and updates from various e-mail correspondents on the C-130 Internet Mailing List,
particularly Bob Daley;
• Various internet web sites, particularly NCAR’s site at
• And of course, where would I be without the assistance of Bernie Barris, the esteemed Historian and
current Chairman of the Board of the Air Weather Reconnaissance Association, and the AWRA website at http://www.awra.us/
• And last but not least, Denny, Ski, George and Joe. Thanks, buddies.
Publications About The C-130
And Weather Reconnaissance
Bates, Charles C. and Fuller, John F., America’s Weather Warriors, 1814-1985, Texas A&M University
Caidin, Martin, The Long Arm Of America, Dutton, 1963.
Caidin, Martin, The Mighty Hercules, Dutton, 1964.
Dabney, Joe, Herk: Hero Of The Skies, Copple House, 1979.
Davis, Larry, Gunships, A Pictorial History of Spooky, Squadron/Signal, 1982.
Drendel, Lou, The C-130 Hercules In Action, Squadron/Signal, 1981.
Fuller, John F., Thor's Legions: Weather Support to the U.S. Air Force and Army, 1937-1987,
American Meteorological Society, 1990.
Leader, Ray, Colors and Markings of the C-130 Hercules, Volume 7, Special Purpose Aircraft,
Tab Books, 1987.
Lloyd, Alwin T., B-29 Superfortress in Detail and Scale, Part 2, Derivatives, Tab Books, 1987.
Markus, Rita, Nicholas Halbeisen and John F. Fuller, Air Weather Service: Our Heritage, 1937-
1987, Military Airlift Command, 1987.
Mason, Francis K., Lockheed Hercules, Stephens, 1984.
McGowan, Sam, C-130 Hercules Tactical Airlift Missions, 1956-1975; Aero Publishers, 1988;
Morris, Marion E., C-130: The Hercules, Presidio, 1989.
Olausson, Lars, Lockheed Hercules Production List, privately published every year.
Peacock, Lindsay, The Mighty Hercules; The First Four Decades, RAF Benevolent Fund, 1994.
Peeters, Willy, Lock-On #3, C-130H, AC-130E, Verlinden Publications.
Reed, Arthur, Modern Combat Aircraft #17: The C-130 Hercules, Ian Allen Ltd., 1984.
Spencer, Otha C., Flying the Weather, The History of Air Weather Reconnaissance, The Country
Tannehill, Ivan, The Hurricane Hunters, 1955 [novel].
World Airpower Journal
—C-130 Hercules Variant Briefing, Part 1, René Francillon, Vol. 6, Summer 1991.
—C-130 Hercules Variant Briefing, Part 2, René Francillon, Vol. 7, Autumn/Winter 1991.
—C-130 Hercules Variant Briefing, Part 3, René Francillon, Vol. 8, Spring 1992.
—Lockheed C-130 Hercules, B. Archer & R. Hewson, Vol. 18, Fall 1994.
—USAF Special Operations Command, Randy Jolly, Vol. 23, Winter 1995.
Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine:
—Pakistani Leader Killed in Explosion of Lockheed C-130, 22 Aug 1988, p. 22.
—Satellites Replace WC-130 Aircraft In Pacific Typhoon Tracking Role, 5 Sep 1988, p. 169.
—Possible Halt in Hurricane Tracking Sparks Congressional Opposition, 5 Sep 1988, p. 175.
—Soviet Bloc Reconnaissance Aircraft Track Hurricane into Gulf of Mexico, 19 Sep 1988, p. 26.
—Doing Something About the Weather, 19 Sep 1988, Editorial, p. 7.
—USAF, NOAA Develop Plan to Transfer Hurricane Hunting Unit, ??Oct88.
—USAF Reserve to Get Hurricane Hunters, ??Nov88.
—House Bill Supports Continued WC-130 Use, ??Sep89.
—Storm Cripples South US Airline, Military Facilities, 31 Aug 1992, p. 27.
—Busy Storm Season Boosts WC-130 Mission Tempo, 28 Aug 1995, p. 54.
—USAF Nuclear Detectives Assume New Roles, 3 Nov 1997, p. 51.
—Sampling Missions Unveiled Nuclear Weapon Secrets, 3 Nov 1997, p. 55.
—C-130J Offers New HUD, Improved Performance, 15 Dec 1997, p. 56.
—Compass Call to Dominate Electronic, Info Warfare, 18 Oct 1999, p. 50.
—EC-130s Continue Upgrades for 21st Century Combat, 18 Oct 1999, p. 54.
The Hurricane Hunters; Frey, Gary. Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society, Spring 1980.
USAF Aerial Weather Reconnaissance Using the Lockheed WC-130 Aircraft; Capt. Rodney Henderson.
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 59, No. 9, September 1978.
Sow A Seed Of Science; Cranfill, Capt. John E, and Cole, Sgt. Dave, Airman, November 1971.
The Typhoon Hunters; Clarke, Richard, Air Classics, December 1974.
Hurricane Hunters; Lutz, LtJG Galen I., Naval Aviation News, July 1975.
The Hurricane Hunters; Sack, Capt Thomas L, Air Classics, issue unknown.
Into the Eye; Graham, SMSgt Vickie M, Airman, December 1984.
AF Tries Again to Cut Back “Storm Trackers”; Air Force Times, 18 May 1992.
Day Of The 'Storm Trackers'; Air Force Magazine, November 1992.
Air Force Crew Keeping an Eye on Storm; Kristin Hussey, Knight-Ridder Newspapers,
Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal-Gazette, 11 Jul 1996.
The Hurricane Hunters; Schmid, Major Valerie, AWS Observer, May/June 1997.
USAF Puts Weather Control on the Map; Evers, Stacey, Janes Defense Weekly, 26 Nov 1997.
The Weather War; Stevaux, Craig, VIETNAM Magazine, December 1997.
The Air Weather Reconnaissance Association ~ http://www.awra.us
The 53rd WRS Hurricane Hunters ~ http://www.hurricanehunters.com
Joey Tabaco’s Links Page ~ http://www.tabacofamily.com/jtabaco/jtlinks.asp
Hercules Headquarters - http://www.c-130hercules.net/content.php
The National Hurricane Center ~ http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/reconlist.shtml
The National Center for Atmospheric Research ~ http://www.eol.ucar.edu/
A Hurricane Hunter’s Photo Album ~ Scott Dommin ~ http://www.pbase.com/sdommin/hurricanes
Hunting Hugo, by Dr. Jeffrey M. Masters, 1999; http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/hugo1.asp
Cold Fronts - Col. Jack Sharp ~ http://www.awra.us/coldfronts/ColdFronts.html
Lockheed WC-130 ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_WC-130
Just go online and search for “WC-130” or “Popeye” or “fog seeding” or “atmospheric sampling", etc, and you will find a host of information. Most of it is true.
“In the eye of a hurricane, you learn things other than of a scientific nature. You feel the puniness of man and his works. If a true definition of humility is ever written, it might well be written in the eye of a hurricane.”
Edward R. Murrow, speaking aboard a WB-29 in the eye of Hurricane Edna, 10 Oct 1954
Senior Iranian Army officers accompany Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkali on a tour of the burned-out American C-130 cargo plane used in an aborted commando raid to rescue U.S. embassy hostages in the eastern desert region of Iran on April 26, 1980.
(Originally published by the Daily News on April 25, 1980. This story was written by James Wieghart and Lars-Eric Nelson.)
WASHINGTON (News Bureau) — An attempt to rescue the 50 American hostages from the occupied United States Embassy in Tehran early today was canceled by President Carter because of equipment failure. Two American aircraft collided on the ground at a remote airstrip in Iran during the withdrawal.
The White House said that eight crew members were killed in the crash and several others were injured. The military personnel were airlifted out of Iran and the injured were receiving medical treatment and were expected to recover.
The White House said that Carter would address the nation on television at 7 a.m. today.
There was no official word from Tehran on the welfare of the 50 Americans at the embassy or the three diplomatic personnel being held at the Iranian Foreign Ministry. The militants holding the Americans at the embassy have repeatedly threatened to kill all their captives at the first sign of an American military action against Iran.
ABC News reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh said in Tehran that no rescue attempt had taken place.
State Department official Mark Johnson said no statements had been received from the militants. “We have no evidence of any reaction against the hostages,” Johnson said.
The Moslem militants announced April 9 that they would burn the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and kill all the hostages if the United States attempted “even the smallest” military move against Iran.
New York Daily News published this on April 25, 1980.
On Nov. 27, barely three weeks after the Nov. 4 takeover, the militants said they had planted mines throughout the embassy compound and would set them off if American agents tried to storm the embassy and free the hostages.
No word on fate of other Americans
There also was no word on the fate of other Americans still in Iran. There are believed to be 12 to 15 other Americans in Iran, almost all reporters, as well as possibly 2,000 to 3,000 dual nationals, the majority Americans married to Iranian citizens.
The White House said that the action “was not motivated by hostility toward Iran or the Iranian people and there were no Iranian casualties.”
The statement said the attempt was “ordered for humanitarian reasons to protect the national interests of this country and to alleviate international tensions.” The mission was called off after a C-130 transport plane and a helicopter collided.
“The President accepts full responsibility for the decision to attempt the rescue. The nation is deeply grateful to the brave men who were preparing to rescue the hostages. The United States continues to hold the government of Iran responsible for the safety of the American hostages and the United States remains determined to obtain their safe release at the earliest possible date,” the statement said.
Pentagon officials were called to a midnight meeting in the office of Defense Secretary Harold Brown. The meeting lasted about two hours and none of the participants had any immediate comment. Key congressional leaders and the families of the hostages were also notified of the aborted rescue attempt.
A propeller from a burned-out American C-130 cargo plane used in the aborted raid to rescue U.S. embassy hostages lies amidst the plane's wreckage in the eastern desert region of Iran on April 26, 1980.
Carter canceled a planned weekend visit to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., and First Lady Rosalynn Carter was returning to Washington from a campaign trip to Texas.
Raid was unexpected at high levels
The raid was unexpected and unknown even at high levels of the American government. Top administration officials had said as late as yesterday that no military action against Iran would be contemplated while European economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran were put into effect, a process that could take two months or more.
But one top White House official said last Friday that when military action came, it would be a surprise blow, designed to shock Iran into an awareness of the dangers it faced by holding the hostages. He was referring, it appeared, to a military blockade of Iran’s posts rather than a rescue attempt.
In its latest program of sanctions, the Carter administration barred travel to Iran except for journalists and urged other Americans there to leave. The journalists were reported about to be expelled by the Iranian government.
Military experts have frequently pointed to the difficulty of a rescue attempt because Tehran is 400 miles from the Arabian sea and the U.S. task force of 26 ships built around two aircraft carriers. A U.S. Marine combat team of 1,800 soldiers is on station with the task force. The location of Tehran appeared to make a helicopter rescue impossible and the distance between the embassy and Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, where heavier planes could land, seemed to bar an Entebbe-type raid. In that operation, Israeli commandos rescued a planeload of hostages from an airfield in Uganda.
Canada had opposed use of force
The scorched wreckage of an American C-130 transport aircraft lies in the Iranian desert of Dasht-E-Kavir on April 27, 1980.
Secretary of State Vance had spent yesterday on a one-day trip to Canada, where he was told that Canada opposed the use of force. “I can’t… see how it could serve us in any way at all,” Prime Pierre Eliot Trudeau said.
Vance was working in the State Department in the early hours this morning. The announcement of the rescue attempt came as a surprise to senior officials of the department’s Iran working group, who have maintained a 24-hour watch since the U.S. Embassy was seized.
President Carter had said last week that military action would be the next U.S. option if economic and diplomatic pressure by America and its allies did not lead to the hostages’ release. The principal tactic under consideration then was a sea blockade that would most likely involve the mining of Iranian ports.
However, the chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington said yesterday that Carter’s talk of possible military action in the Iranians Crisis made clear that the time had come for consultations with Congress under the War Powers Act.
Chairman Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) assured Vance in a letter that such consultations would be held under “the strictest confidentiality.”
They noted that Carter has repeatedly said that the use of military force is an option open to him in seeking the release of the American hostages.
“The advance consultation provisions of the War Powers resolution are intended to come into play before any such decision has been made, in order to insure that any such decision, if made, is a national decision jointly entered into by the President and Congress,” Church and Javits.
One of 52 American hostages, hands bound and blindfolded, is displayed to the crowd outside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, in this Nov. 9, 1979 photo.
The Soviet Union had volunteered to circumvent a possible U.S. blockade of Iran by expanding its overland road and rail routes. The Soviets confirmed yesterday they would open their highway system to increased Iranian traffic in case of a blockade of Iranian seaports. They also announced they were resuming suspended negotiations to buy Iranian natural gas.
Responding to reports that Iran was concluding major economic deals with the Soviet bloc, State Department spokesman Thomas Reston said, “The Soviets do not have the economic wherewithal to replace the goods that Iran now imports from the West.”
Reston reminded Iran’s leaders of the fate of neighboring Afghanistan, now occupied by 85,000 Soviet troops after pursuing a Marxist path of development. He also reminded them of the Soviet attempt to seize Azerbaijan, Iran’s north westernmost province, after World War II.
About Russia’s increasing its land traffic with Iran, Reston said that “as a practical matter, the transportation capacity between the USSR and Iran is limited. Further I do not believe that Iran’s true national interests would be served by a further amount of involvement with the Soviet Union. Given the continued turmoil in the country and the presence of Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the real threat to Iranian security is more than self-evident.”
At the same time, Iran threatened to cut off the West’s vital Persian Gulf oil lifeline if the United States mined Iranian ports.
Gotbzadeh said in an interview on Iranian radio and television yesterday that, “We shall close the Persian Gulf at any price.”
Ghotbzadeh did not say just how the Iranians might try to halt the supertanker traffic out of the gulf, which accounts for about 60% of all world oil exports.
When the Cold War was at its peak, America began spying on the Russians from space with the Corona Program. Corona used a system of satellites that flew over Russia, taking photos of sensitive and classified areas.
The problem with the early spy satellites was that digital photography had not been invented yet and digital scanning was in its infancy. The earliest spy satellites had to take their photos with film and then send the film back to earth.
Graphic: National Reconnaissance Office
So, the Air Force set up the 6593rd Test Group and then the 6594th Test Squadron at Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii. These units flew under the path of the satellites and caught the film that the satellites dropped to earth. Some of the first objects ever designed to re-enter the atmosphere, the canisters were about the size of a garbage can and carried large parachutes to slow their descent.
When they first entered the atmosphere, the canisters would resemble falling stars as the air around the fast-moving object compressed and began to burn. After the chute deployed, the canister slowed down and 6594th and 6593rd pilots would have to spot the canisters and snag them with a recovery system installed on modified cargo planes. They originally used the C-119 Flying Boxcar but switched over to C-130s.
Photo: US Air Force
The canisters used a Mark 8 parachute with a cone that up from the center of the parachute. The pilots would spot the canisters and crews would then deploy a “loop” made of nylon rope with brass hooks. The loop trailed beneath the aircraft as the pilot flew directly over the chute, hopefully catching the chute. Using a winch, the crew would then pull the chute and canister into the modified C-119 or C-130 aircraft.
“I liked to recover a parachute close up to the belly of the airplane,” said Lt. Col. Harold E. Mitchell, pilot of the first successful midair film recovery, Discoverer 14. “They didn’t like that because you could invert the parachute… Many times when the parachute went through, though, it passed close under the belly of the airplane, and went over the top of the loop and it wouldn’t deflate. It became a drag chute.”
Photo: US Air Force
When the pilot missed the chute or it slipped off the hooks, the canister would fall into the Pacific ocean. For these instances, the units employed rescue swimmers who would deploy off of helicopters to retrieve the capsules.
Each successful recovery provided a treasure trove of imagery. The first successful recovery documented 1,650,000 square miles of the Soviet Union, more than 24 U-2 missions provided.
Over the course of the Cold War, the Corona Program was key in tracking Russian military developments. One of their most important discoveries was showing that the “missile gap” worried over by U.S. planners, a belief that the Soviet Union had drastically more missiles than the U.S., was backward. The U.S. had the larger and more capable stockpile.
The 6593rd deactivated in 1972 and the 6594th followed suit in 1986.
Read this and other great articles at WearetheMighty.com
The C-130 is the world’s most prolific cargo hauler and it’s been adapted to do pretty much everything imaginable with one exception: operating on water. Yet some of the folks at Lockheed wanted to do just that in the 1960s. Sure, amphibious planes are a niche, but the already boat-like C-130 seems like a perfect candidate.
Making the C-130 into something capable of playing in water involves more than just modifying an amphibian hull onto the plane’s already rotund fuselage. And it would certainly look amazing (I am a sucker for float planes, especially huge ones), but the drag and weight penalties caused by mounting floats on a Hercules would be damning, greatly impact range and detract from the C-130’s useful load.
Instead, a C-130 flying boat would experience a minimal drag penalty induced by its stepped hull and outrigger floats. In fact, those outrigger floats could potentially be attached to the C-130’s existing outboard wing hard-points and loaded with fuel. One could even imagine small boats being designed to be raised and lowered via modified inboard wing pylons. This would allow a C-130 amphibian to retain its cavernous cargo hold while having small boats available to act much like a traditional patrol ship.
The best part about the amphibian flying boat concept is that it doesn’t have to live and operate on water alone, but it can just as easily operate from land and conventional runways.
The concept you see at the top of this article was actually a model built for the Navy to demonstrate the C-130 amphibian concept. It’s described as such:
Although the romantic idea of taking a flying boat to some far-flung exotic locale died many decades ago, the flying boat idea has been coming up lately, but with a futuristic face-lift. Although many of these modern, fantastical flying boat concepts are laughable, a C-130 amphibian has clear practical uses, without needing any expensive infrastructure improvements.
A C-130 amphibian would probably be the best fire-fighting aircraft of all time, being able to scoop up thousands of gallons of water on lakes and waterways while still being able to operate from existing land bases for retardant drops. Above all else, such a configuration would also allow these aircraft to utilize the common parts bin and logistical train as normal C-130s. This would lower operating costs and increase availability, both factors that has heavily hampered a hodgepodge of other flying boat fire-bomber concepts over the years.
Even the U.S. Coast Guard could benefit from such a C-130 configuration. When used in the search and rescue mission, USCG Hercules can locate survivors and even toss down supplies to them in some circumstances, but they can’t rescue anyone. An amphibian configured C-130 could prosecute the entire search and rescue mission under decent weather and sea conditions. This was a proven practice in WWII and continued into the early 1980s with the HU-16 Albatross flying boat. A C-130 Amphibian could extend the USCG’s rescue reach thousands of miles from shore.
There are many other applications for an amphibious C-130, like disaster relief and even military missions, and especially those carried out by the special operations community. In fact, the vast majority of the C-130’s many missions it has assumed over the better part of a century could be carried over in a amphibian boat form. Especially “roll on and roll off” and bolt-on modifications that have become so popular over the last two decades.
In the end, do we need the C-130 amphibian? Perhaps not, but it sure would be awesome to have.
Lockheed C-130: The Four Horsemen Demonstrated the Power of the New Aircraft
In the spring of 1964, as a newly arrived aircraft maintenance technician at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, I was shown the film The Four Horsemen Story while attending a Lockheed C-130E familiarization course. Essentially a Lockheed sales tool designed to demonstrate to prospective customers just how maneuverable the Hercules really was, the film made a lasting impression on me–mostly because it focused on a group of real C-130 pilots who had organized what was perhaps the most unusual aerial demonstration team in the history of the U.S. Air Force.
The C-130A Hercules entered service with the Air Force’s 463rd Troop Carrier Wing, a Tactical Air Command (TAC) unit, in December 1956. Within a few months the former Fairchild C-119 pilots of the wing’s 774th Troop Carrier Squadron, the first such unit to be equipped with the Hercules, had become quite proficient with their new aircraft. Most of the aircraft commanders were veteran pilots, many with careers that dated back to the Korean War, when they had flown Douglas C-47s and Curtiss C-46s and C-119s in combat. All were impressed with the tremendous maneuverability of the new plane, the result of hydraulically boosted flight controls that gave the 125,200-pound transport the handling characteristics of a fighter. Powered by four Allison T-56 turboprop engines, the C-130A was also blessed with tremendous performance. It was only natural that many of its pilots would experiment to see just how good the plane really was–and how good they were at flying it.
In early 1957 four aircrews from the 774th Troop Carrier Squadron, the ‘Green Weasels,’ were at Fort Campbell, Ky., for a week of dropping troops of the 101st Airborne Division. One day high winds led to a cancellation of the day’s drops and a mission stand-down for the crews. With time to kill and their aircraft ready to go, the four pilots–Captains Gene Chaney, Jim Aiken, David Moore and Bill Hatfield–decided to practice some formation flying. They took off and headed out over the fields of Kentucky and Tennessee, where they started moving closer and closer together in their formation. Next they returned to the airfield at Campbell and made several low-altitude passes down the runway, still in tight formation. Suddenly, an idea was born: Why not practice until they got really adept with the planes, and then go around to military bases and put on performances for the troops?
At the end of the week the foursome went back to their home base at Ardmore, Okla., and began working on a routine. Some 500 miles to the east, the men of the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Sewart Air Force Base in Tennessee were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their own brand-new C-130s, all set to become the second Air Force unit to equip with the new transport. The four 774th pilots proposed a plan to the TAC brass: Let the four pilots and crews who had been practicing formation flying take four C-130s and fly to Sewart, to show the men of the 314th just what kind of airplane they were getting. TAC Headquarters approved the plan, and the new aerial demonstration team was off and running. At first they referred to themselves as the ‘Thunder Weasels,’ a combination of the animal on the 774th’s squadron patch and the famous Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team, but they eventually settled on the ‘Four Horsemen’ after Coach Knute Rockne’s legendary backfield on Notre Dame’s 1924 football team. They put on a show for the Sewart people, who were suitably impressed.
As the men grew more and more proficient with their maneuvers, they became enthusiastic about becoming an officially recognized aerial demonstration team. The four pilots began researching Air Force technical orders, safety standards and procedures to find out how to obtain official recognition. At length their efforts paid off, with TAC officially sanctioning their status as an aerial demonstration team. While the C-130 might look ungainly to the uninitiated, it was really a highly maneuverable airplane, particularly for a transport. The C-130A, for example, was capable of using 2,700-foot landing strips–remarkably short for an airplane that size. When the Horsemen demonstrated the C-130’s short-field takeoff performance, they did so in a close diamond formation. Led by Moore and sometimes by Chaney, who served as the team captain, the four planes would taxi onto the runway and form a diamond formation. The maneuver called for the four transports to begin rolling at two-second intervals, although Aviation Week magazine pilot-editor Robert Stanfield, who flew with them in 1959, said it seemed like they all started rolling at once. On that occasion the reporter was flying in the’slot’ airplane, the best vantage point from which to observe the Horsemen in action. Thanks to the prop-wash from the three preceding airplanes, the slot airplane, usually flown by Bill Hatfield, would get off the ground first. Hatfield would hold his airspeed down to 100 knots until the other airplanes were airborne. The Horsemen would retract gear and flaps on a signal from the lead plane and begin a sharp climb at 120 knots, achieving better than a 4,000-foot-per-minute rate of climb that would put them over the end of a 10,000-foot runway at 1,500 feet. Normal troop carrier procedures called for 15-second takeoff intervals between airplanes.
Once in the air, the Four Horsemen would perform a series of intricate maneuvers at altitudes ranging from just above the runway to 3,000 feet. They flew their diamond really tight. According to Aviation Week’s Stanfield, the slot plane’s nose was held as close as seven feet from the leader’s tail. Because of the downwash from the propellers, each of the following aircraft flew slightly higher than the one in front. Each pilot would try to fly right ‘on top of the bubble.’ The slot airplane would be the highest in the formation, its windshield level with the top one-third of the lead airplane’s tail fin. The noses of the two wingmen were in line with a row of rivets that ran the length of the lead airplane’s wings. Dropping down into the wash of the leading airplanes could be dangerous. In one instance slot pilot Hatfield was flying an airplane that had a ‘Bulldog’ winch in the back, standard on all TAC C-130s at the time. The tie-downs that secured the winch were evidently loose, and when Hatfield accidentally dropped into the prop wash of the airplanes ahead of him, the resulting turbulence caused the winch to rise above the floor of the airplane. As the turbulence went from negative to positive G-forces, the winch came back down with such momentum that it knocked a hole in the cargo compartment floor.
The team alternated between different formations. The arrow was a line-astern formation in which each airplane was tucked in right behind and slightly above the one before it. From the arrow they would go to the arrowhead, as the two trailing airplanes moved to the side of the line and took formation in line with each other, tucked in on the number two airplane. They also flew echelon formations, and ended their show with a bomb burst: The lead and number three aircraft would break high and to the left while numbers two and four broke to the right. They then rejoined in the diamond and returned to the airfield for a formation landing, moving into an echelon over the runway, then doing a tactical pitch-out to come back around for landing. The first plane would still be on the runway when the slot man touched down. Their show was as impressive as any put on by fighter pilots, and perhaps even more so considering the size and weight of the planes.
No particular aircraft were assigned to the Four Horsemen. Each crew drew whatever plane happened to be available on the flight line at Ardmore, or at Sewart after the 463rd moved there to join the 314th shortly after the latter wing converted to the Hercules. The two wings made up the muscle of TAC’s 839th Air Division, which was also based at Sewart. The demonstration pilots flew the same training and operational missions as the other pilots in the two C-130 wings.
Very early on, the C-130 demonstrated its ability to fly on three and even two engines without a significant loss of performance. In fact, a Lockheed test crew took off from Florida, shut down the aircraft’s outboard engines and flew all the way to California at low level on two engines. The airplane was so overpowered that crews routinely shut down the outboard engines on some flights to conserve fuel. During one Four Horseman performance, Chaney, who normally flew in the number three position but was taking the lead that day, lost an outboard engine. He and his crew went through the engine shutdown procedure without losing their place in formation, then simply went on with the show (let’s see the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels try that one!).
The most difficult position to fly in the formation was number three, because the aircraft commander was on the opposite side of the airplane from the rest of the formation and had to constantly be turning his head to the right. As the chief of the Horsemen, Chaney usually occupied that spot, while Moore usually flew the lead. The co-pilot in the right seat helped his boss maintain the tight formation that had become the team’s trademark. All the pilots were highly qualified veterans, with an average of 4,000 hours of total flying time and 1,500 hours in C-130s by late 1959, when the Aviation Week journalist rode with them. Co-pilots were drawn from the ranks of aircraft commanders in the squadron, and quite often those men were instructor pilots as well.
When the 774th was deployed, the Four Horsemen went right along with their squadron mates, airlifting men and equipment to Lebanon in one instance and to Formosa in another. They practiced their Horsemen routine whenever they could, but that was often less than 10 hours a month. The pilots maintained their proficiency the same way other troop carrier pilots did–flying training missions that included close formation flying, though not as close as the Horsemen generally flew in a performance. The men themselves wore no distinctive uniforms other than a small patch on their flight suits with a horse’s head and a Roman numeral IV. They also wore scarves to dress up a bit for the shows.
The C-130 ordinarily called for a five-man crew, but the Horsemen flew with only four–two pilots, a flight engineer and a scanner. The navigator’s seat sat empty during the shows. The crews came from within the squadron, and the Horsemen pilots tried to fly with the same flight mechanics when possible. There was great esprit de corps among the flight mechanics, who debated which pilot was best, which position was most difficult to fly and so on. In the air, the mechanics soon learned the torque settings needed at a particular point in a maneuver and the proper time for call-outs of instrument readings. The scanners came from maintenance and were just as proud to be part of the Four Horsemen as the pilots and flight mechanics. Hatfield remembered that the scanners ordinarily did not fly during performances, but were there to help get the airplanes off the ground.
The four veteran aircraft commanders of the Horsemen team had been with the C-130 since it was first assigned to the 463rd at Ardmore in December 1956. Chaney, along with Captain Richard ‘Stumpy’ Coleman, had picked up the first airplane to be delivered at the factory in Marietta, Ga., and flown it to Ardmore. A year after the first Hercules arrived at Ardmore, the 463rd left Oklahoma when the base closed, moving to Tennessee to join the 314th. The Horsemen continued to stage their performances from their new base.
By early 1960 the C-130 had been in service with the Air Force for more than two years. Lockheed had developed a new model of the Hercules, the C-130B, and the 463rd and 314th began converting to the new version as the older A-models transferred to overseas squadrons. As the oldest C-130 pilots in the Air Force (in terms of time in the airplane), the Four Horsemen were ripe for deployment overseas. In a recent interview Hatfield speculated that they could probably have remained at Sewart and continued the team if someone had pushed for it, but it didn’t happen that way. Three of the four received overseas orders, while the fourth, Moore, left the service and returned to Texas. Chaney got orders to Wiesbaden, West Germany. Aiken went to Tachikawa, Japan, and Hatfield ended up a few miles away, in Yokota. Except for Moore, they would all remain in close contact with one another over the years. Chaney and Moore died several years ago. Hatfield and Aiken still remain in touch today.
Although the career of the Four Horsemen came to an end in the spring of 1960, they left behind a remarkable legacy. In honor of the team, the official patch of the 774th Troop Carrier Squadron was modified to include a red lightning bolt, reminiscent of the team’s effect on the squadron. During the remainder of their careers, the four pilots remained associated with the C-130, as did many others who had flown with the team as backup aircraft commanders and co-pilots. Hatfield went on to pilot the reconnaissance version of the C-130B, with the super-secret 6091st Reconnaissance Squadron at Yokota, then returned to the United States to join the Lockheed C-141 program at Charleston Air Force Base, in South Carolina. He subsequently was placed in command of a rescue squadron equipped with HC-130Hs in California. Chaney returned to the 463rd after the wing moved from Langley Air Force Base, in Virginia (where it had gone from Sewart in 1963), to Clark Field in the Philippines. Billie Mills, a veteran 774th pilot who often flew with the Four Horsemen, also served with the 463rd at Clark. On May 12, 1968, Mills was one of a handful of C-130 pilots who braved devastating enemy fire to rescue allied troops surrounded by a larger enemy force at a Special Forces camp at Kham Duc, South Vietnam.
Today the memory of the Four Horsemen lives on in the 16mm film Lockheed produced. To make that 15-minute movie, a motion picture company hired by Lockheed shot thousands of feet of film of the quartet in action. The Horsemen themselves were not especially happy with the finished product once it was edited down. The voices of actors were dubbed into the film, including one with a nasal northern voice who claimed to be the ‘chief’ of the Horsemen. In reality, all the Horsemen were Southerners–Chaney and Moore from Texas, Aiken from Tennessee and Hatfield from Mississippi.
With the advent of the VCR, The Four Horsemen Story has been circulated through the C-130 community, though the VHS version leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to the film that inspired me back in early 1964. Airlift tactics have changed considerably since 1960, as the Tactical Air Command troop carrier squadrons became tactical airlift, then were transferred out of TAC to the Military Airlift Command after the end of the Vietnam War. By that time, close formation flying by troop carrier aircraft had already ceased, with TAC adopting the ‘in-trail’ formation as the standard for C-130s. The Four Horsemen have been out of business for more than 40 years now. But the men who came up with a way to showcase the Hercules’ excellent performance and their remarkable aerial demonstrations are not forgotten, thanks largely to one short film and the lasting memories they gave everyone who witnessed firsthand their precision maneuvers in transport aircraft.
Aircraft that have been modified or built for a special mission have a modified mission code is added prior to the basic mission code
(Modified Mission)(Basic Mission)-(Design Number)(Series Letter) Example: AC-130A
-30 Stretch (USAF Only)
Special Electronic Mission
Carrier (of Parasite Aircraft)
Search and Rescue
Cold Weather Operations
Aircraft not conducting normal operations have a status prefix prior to the basic mission code
(Status Prefix)(Basic Mission)-(Design Number)(Series Letter) Example: NC-130A
Special test, temporary
Special test, permanent
Proposals were received from Boeing, Douglas, Fairchild and Lockheed. Lockheed won the competition and was awarded a contract to produce two prototype YC-130 aircraft on July 2, 1951. The first flight of the YC-130 took place on Aug. 23, 1954, at Lockheed's Burbank, Calif., plant. The airplane's performance was exceptional and far exceeded both the USAF’s and even some of Lockheed’s own engineer’s expectations. Its four turbo-prop engines enabled YC-130 to take-off in only 800 feet. In addition to its tremendous lift capability, the aircraft also proved to be far more maneuverable than expected while meeting or exceeding all of the other USAF performance requirements.
As for early challenges, one of the major obstacles was foregoing the urge to incorporate new technologies. At the time, Lockheed was designing and producing the most advanced aircraft in the world. To many within the company the YC-130 was ungainly and represented a step backwards in aircraft engineering. For perspective, in the 1950s, aviation design had moved into the jet-age with sleek airframes with swept-back wings being the norm. In contrast, the YC-130 used an un-swept, high-wing design that placed the fuselage on the ground and was powered by four turbo-prop engines
The first production C-130A had its first flight at Marietta, Ga., on April 7, 1955. It was similar to the prototypes but featured a revised nose, four powerful Allison T56-A-lA turbo-prop engines, each delivering 3,750 horsepower and driving a three-bladed Curtiss-Wright electric-reversible propeller.
An early problem developed with the propeller pitch-changing mechanism that was corrected by adopting a hydraulic model, and eventually, a four-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller was adopted.
The C-130 was not a giant-sized aircraft by the standards of its time, but it featured a large unobstructed, fully-pressurized cargo hold which could rapidly be reconfigured for the carriage of troops, stretchers or passengers box. Coupled with its tremendous lift capacity, long-range, and austere landing field capabilities, it gave the air forces of the world something that had not previously existed: a tactical airlifter. The C-130’s high-wing design places the cargo floor at truck-bed height above the ground. The C-130 also features an integral "roll- on/roll-off" rear-loading ramp and the ability to be quickly reconfigured cargo, troop transport or airdrops of troops and/or equipment into battle zones. More impressively, it could fulfill the need for low landing speeds and short-field capability while still being able to maintain a cruising speed of 365 miles per hour at an altitude of ~35,000 feet.
Moreover, the C-130 airframe immediately was recognized to have incredible versatility, prompting it to be quickly adapted for use in supporting special mission requirements. The first of some 70 different variants – a “drone launcher/director” or DC-130A – was built in 1959. As is the case with many of the special mission C-130s, all of the special equipment was removable, thus permitting the aircraft to be used as freighters, assault transports, or air ambulances.
The first C-130A (#53-3129) flew on April 7, 1955, and deliveries began in December 1956. The “A” model featured four three-bladed Allison T56-A-9 turboprops. A total of 231 aircraft were produced.
Deliveries of the C-130B began in June 1959. A total of 230 were produced. The “B” model introduced the four-bladed Allison T56-A-7 turboprops, carried additional fuel in the wings and had strengthened landing gear.
Deliveries of the C-130E began in April 1962. The “E” was an extended-range development of the C-130B. The maximum ramp weight of the E-model increased to 155,000 pounds (70,307 kilograms), 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) more than the B-model. Its fuel capacity was increased by over 17,000 pounds (7,711kilograms). More powerful Allison T-56-A-7A engines were used and a pair of 1,360-gallon under-wing external fuel tanks was added. A total of 491”E” models were produced.
Deliveries of the C-130H began in July 1974. The “H” model was fitted with updated T56-A-T5 turboprops, a redesigned outer wing, updated avionics and other minor improvements. 1087 “H” models were produced.
A commercial version of the C-130 designated the L-100 was also produced in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The L-100 evolved into the L-100-20 and the L-100-30. The -20’s fuselages were lengthened by some 100-inches and the -30s by some 180-inches. The “dash 30” (-30) configuration was eventually adopted for use on the C-130H. Compared to the “short” models of the C-130 with a 40-foot cargo compartment, the C-130H-30 has a 55-foot cargo compartment providing space for 30 percent more cargo or 40 percent more personnel.
The C-130J is the newest-generation of the C-130. It is a military derivative of the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics baseline model 382J-01G civil aircraft configuration. The “J” incorporates an integrated digital avionics suite with head-up displays, new propulsion system and other major systems upgrades that reduce operating costs and crew size while offering significant performance improvements.
Adapted form Lockheed C-130 Programs Fast Facts dated 8 May 2012