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It's been 61 years since the US military's most versatile plane had its first flight

C-130 Fire FightingCalifornia National Guard

The endlessly flexible Lockheed C-130 Hercules is an absolutely astounding aircraft that can adapt to any challenge thrown its way.

Designed against the backdrop of the Korean War, the C-130 flew its first flight 61 years ago today on August 23, 1954.

Despite its age, the plane’s airframe continues to be adapted and upgraded for novel uses across the full spectrum of the US military.

From humanitarian rescue to paratrooper airdrops to gunship-type functions, the C-130 airframe is a marvel of ingenuity and versatility.

Even at 61-years-old, the aircraft continues to function as a key tool in the military’s arsenal.

The YC-130 prototype flew for the first time on August 23, 1954. Since that first flight, the C-130 has grown to support a variety of missions around the world.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_C-130_Hercules#mediaviewer/File:YC-130s_formation_usaf.jpg

The aircraft can land on, and takeoff from, even the most uneven runways.

Senior Airman Patrick P. Evenson/USAF

The latest model of the vanilla C-130 is the Lockheed Martin C-130J 'Super' Hercules. Business Insider spotted several on the tarmac at Ramstein Air Base, in Germany.

Jeremy Bender/Business Insider

The Super Hercules comes outfitted with a host of cockpit and avionics improvements, such as a pilot's heads-up display.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_C-130J_Super_Hercules#mediaviewer/File:C-130J_Co_Pilot%27s_Head-up_display.jpg

The Super Hercules's cutting-edge cockpit only needs a crew of three to operate -- two pilots and a loadmaster to take care of the cargo.

Jeremy Bender/Business Insider

The Super Hercules also has improved propellers over the older models. The new propellers increase the plane's overall efficiency, while the aircraft's engines are 25% more powerful than the previous model.

Adrian Pingstone/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_C-130J_Super_Hercules#mediaviewer/File:Hercules.propeller.arp.jpg

The Super Hercules is a true beast of burden and can carry a maximum payload of 44,000 pounds.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder/USAF

The C-130 can carry a vast range of cargo. Here, the US Air Force carries humanitarian supplies for an airdrop over Amerli, Iraq on August 30, 2014.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel/USAF

The aircraft can also serve as a troop transport ...

Staff Sgt. Sara Keller/USAF

... And paratroopers can use it as a staging airframe for jumps.

Sgt. Edward Eagerton/US Army National Guard

Critically, the C-130 can be used for the evacuation of up to 74 wounded soldiers or civilians. Surgery can even be performed aboard the aircraft, if necessary.

USAF

The C-130 frame has been modified for a series of uses beyond just transport. The AC-130 Gunship, for example, can provide close-air support for troops on the ground.

Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/USAF

The US Forest Service uses C-130s loaned from the Air National Guard or the Air Force Reserve as emergency backup for dumping fire retardant or water.

California National Guard

Another variant of the C-130, the KC-130, is used for aerial refuelling operations by the Marine Corps.

Capt. Staci Reidinger/US Marine Corps

The KC-130J can quickly be outfitted with Hellfire or Griffin missiles and precision-guided bombs, if necessary, to provide area denial operations.

Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington/USMC

The EC-130 variant is specifically designed for electronic warfare. It can jam enemy signals, transmit commands to other planes, and transmit radio broadcasts to civilians in disaster relief or psychological warfare.

Tech. Sgt. James L. Harper/USAF

There is also the WC-130 Hurricane Hunter. The WC-130 is used for weather reconnaissance missions and can increase the accuracy of the National Hurricane Center's forecasts by 30%.

Tech. Sgt. James B. Pritchett/USAF

You've seen everything the C-130 is capable of ...

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