Close this search box.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is an American four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed.

Capable of using unprepared runways for take offs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medevac, and cargo transport aircraft.

The versatile airframe has found uses in other roles, including as a gunship (AC-130), for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refuelling, maritime patrol, and aerial firefighting.

It is now the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide.

More than 40 variants of the Hercules, including civilian versions marketed as the Lockheed L-100, operate in more than 60 nations.

The C-130 entered service with the U.S. in 1956, followed by Australia and many other nations.

During its years of service, the Hercules has participated in numerous military, civilian and humanitarian aid operations.

In 2007, the C-130 became the fifth aircraft to mark 50 years of continuous service with its original primary customer, which for the C-130 is the United States Air Force.

The C-130 Hercules is the longest continuously produced military aircraft at more than 60 years, with the updated Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules currently being produced.

The Korean War showed that World War II-era piston-engine transports Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars, Douglas C-47 Skytrains and Curtiss C-46 Commandos were no longer adequate.

On 2 February 1951, the United States Air Force issued a General Operating Requirement (GOR) for a new transport to Boeing, Douglas, Fairchild, Lockheed, Martin, Chase Aircraft, North American, Northrop, and Airlifts Inc.

The new transport would have a capacity of 92 passengers, 72 combat troops or 64 paratroopers in a cargo compartment that was approximately 41 ft (12 m) long, 9 ft (2.7 m) high, and 10 ft (3.0 m) wide.

Unlike transports derived from passenger airliners, it was to be designed specifically as a combat transport with loading from a hinged loading ramp at the rear of the fuselage.

A notable advance for large aircraft was the introduction of a turboprop powerplant, the Allison T56 which was developed for the C-130.

It gave the aircraft greater range than a turbojet engine as it used less fuel.

Turboprop engines also produced much more power for their weight than piston engines.

However, the turboprop configuration chosen for the T56, with the propeller connected to the compressor, had the potential to cause structural failure of the aircraft if an engine failed. Safety devices had to be incorporated to reduce the excessive drag from a windmilling propeller.

The Hercules resembled a larger four-engine version of the Fairchild C-123 Provider with a similar wing and cargo ramp layout.

The C-123 had evolved from the Chase XCG-20 Avitruc, which was first designed and flown as a cargo glider in 1947.

The Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter had rear ramps, which made it possible to drive vehicles onto the airplane (also possible with the forward ramp on a C-124).

The ramp on the Hercules was also used to airdrop cargo, which included a Low-altitude parachute-extraction system for Sheridan tanks and even dropping large improvised “daisy cutter” bombs.

The new Lockheed cargo plane had a range of 1,100 nmi (1,270 mi; 2,040 km) and it could operate from short and unprepared strips.

Fairchild, North American, Martin, and Northrop declined to participate.

The remaining five companies tendered a total of ten designs: Lockheed two, Boeing one, Chase three, Douglas three, and Airlifts Inc. one.

The contest was a close affair between the lighter of the two Lockheed (preliminary project designation L-206) proposals and a four-turboprop Douglas design.

The Lockheed design team was led by Willis Hawkins, starting with a 130-page proposal for the Lockheed L-206.

Hall Hibbard, Lockheed vice president and chief engineer, saw the proposal and directed it to Kelly Johnson, who did not care for the low-speed, unarmed aircraft, and remarked, “If you sign that letter, you will destroy the Lockheed Company.”

Both Hibbard and Johnson signed the proposal, and the company won the contract for the now-designated Model 82 on 2 July 1951.

The first flight of the YC-130 prototype was made on 23 August 1954 from the Lockheed plant in Burbank, California.

The aircraft, serial number 53-3397, was the second prototype, but the first of the two to fly.

The YC-130 was piloted by Stanley Beltz and Roy Wimmer on its 61-minute flight to Edwards Air Force Base; Jack Real and Dick Stanton served as flight engineers.

Kelly Johnson flew chase in a Lockheed P2V Neptune.

After the two prototypes were completed, production began in Marietta, Georgia, where over 2,300 C-130s have been built through 2009.

The initial production model, the C-130A, was powered by Allison T56-A-9 turboprops with three-blade propellers and originally equipped with the blunt nose of the prototypes.

Deliveries began in December 1956, continuing until the introduction of the C-130B model in 1959.

Some A-models were equipped with skis and re-designated C-130D.

As the C-130A became operational with Tactical Air Command (TAC), the C-130’s lack of range became apparent and additional fuel capacity was added with wing pylon-mounted tanks outboard of the engines; this added 6,000 lb (2,720 kg) of fuel capacity for a total capacity of 40,000 lbs (18,140 kg).



Tactical airlifter basic models

C-130A-II Dreamboat

Early version Electronic Intelligence/Signals Intelligence (ELINT/SIGINT) aircraft

C-130J Super Hercules

Tactical airlifter, with new engines, avionics, and updated systems

C-130B BLC

A one-off conversion of C-130B 58-0712, modified with a double Allison YT56 gas generator pod under each outer wing, to provide bleed air for all the control surfaces and flaps.


Designation for RAF Hercules C1/W2/C3 aircraft

(C-130Js in RAF service are the Hercules C.4 and Hercules C.5)


Gunship variants


Ski-equipped version for snow and ice operations United States Air Force / Air National Guard

CC-130E/H/J Hercules

Designation for Canadian Armed Forces / Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules aircraft.

U.S. Air Force used the CC-130J designation to differentiate the standard C-130J variant from the “stretched” C-130J (company designation C-130J-30).


Designation used by the Brazilian Air Force for locally modified / up-graded C-130H aircraft


USAF and USN Drone control


EC-130E/J Commando Solo

USAF / Air National Guard psychological operations version

EC-130E Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Centre (ABCCC) 

USAF procedural air-to-ground attack control, also provided NRT threat updates

EC-130E Rivet Rider

Airborne psychological warfare aircraft

EC-130H Compass Call 

Electronic warfare and electronic attack.


Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) variant used by USCG for counter-narcotics missions


Permanently grounded instructional airframes



Early model combat search and rescue

HC-130P/N Combat King

USAF aerial refuelling tanker and combat search and rescue

HC-130J Combat King II 

Next generation combat search and rescue tanker


USCG long-range surveillance and search and rescue, USAFR Aerial Spray & Airlift


Temporary conversion for flight test operations; used to recover drones and spy satellite film capsules.


United States Marine Corps aerial refuelling tanker and tactical airlifter


USAF / Air National Guard – Ski-equipped version for Arctic and Antarctic support operations; LC-130F and R previously operated by USN


MC-130E/H Combat Talon I/II

Special operations infiltration/extraction variant

MC-130W Combat Spear/Dragon Spear

Special operations tanker/gunship

MC-130P Combat Shadow

Special operations tanker 

All operational aircraft converted to HC-130P standard

MC-130J Commando II

(Formerly Combat Shadow II)

Special operations tanker Air Force Special Operations Command


Modified aircraft under Operation Credible Sport for second Iran hostage crisis rescue attempt


Permanent conversion for flight test operations


Maritime patrol


Surveillance aircraft for reconnaissance

SC-130J Sea Herc

Proposed maritime patrol version of the C-130J, designed for coastal surveillance and anti-submarine warfare.


Aircrew training


VIP transport


Weather reconnaissance (“Hurricane Hunter”) version for USAF / Air Force Reserve Command’s 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron in support of the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Centre




42,000 lb (19,000 kg) payload

C-130E/H/J cargo hold

length, 40 ft (12.19 m)

width, 119 in (3.02 m)

height, 9 ft (2.74 m)

Rear ramp

length, 123 in (3.12 m); width,

119 in (3.02 m)

C-130J-30 cargo hold


55 ft (16.76 m)


119 in (3.02 m)


9 ft (2.74 m)

Rear ramp


123 inches (3.12 m)


119 in (3.02 m)

92 passengers


64 airborne troops


74 litter patients with 5 medical crew


6 pallets


2–3 Humvees


2 M113 armoured personnel carriers

1 CAESAR self-propelled howitzer


97 ft 9 in (29.79 m)


132 ft 7 in (40.41 m)


38 ft 3 in (11.66 m)

Wing area

1,745 sq ft (162.1 m2)



NACA 64A318


NACA 64A412

Empty weight

75,800 lb (34,382 kg)

Max take-off weight

155,000 lb (70,307 kg)


4 × Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines,

4,590 shp (3,420 kW) each


4-bladed Hamilton Standard 54H60 constant-speed fully feathering reversible propellers,

13 ft 6 in (4.11 m) diameter


Maximum speed

320 kn (370 mph, 590 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,100 m)

Cruise speed

292 kn (336 mph, 541 km/h)


2,050 nmi (2,360 mi, 3,800 km)

Service ceiling

33,000 ft (10,000 m) empty

23,000 ft (7,000 m) with 42,000 lb (19,000 kg) payload

Rate of climb

1,830 ft/min (9.3 m/s)

Take-off distance

3,586 ft (1,093 m) at 155,000 lb (70,307 kg) max gross weight

1,400 ft (427 m) at 80,000 lb (36,287 kg) gross weight


Westinghouse Electronic Systems AN/APN-241 weather and navigational radar.



Share on facebook