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 celebrated the 60th anniversary of its first flight in August. 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 60-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.
The US Air Force and Air National Guard have their own variant of the plane, the LC-130, that has been outfitted with skis to allow for Arctic and Antarctic support operations.
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.
The Super Hercules comes outfitted with a host of cockpit and avionics improvements, such as a pilot's heads-up display.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The US Air Force and Coast Guard employ the HC-130 for search-and-rescue missions. In combat search and rescue, the HC-130 is used for the transportation of survival equipment and aerial refueling of combat aircraft. They also function as on-scene command aircraft.
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.
Another variant of the C-130, the KC-130, is used for aerial refueling operations by the 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.
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.
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%.
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