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