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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The catalyst for the C-130 Hercules was the Korean War which began in 1950 when many of the old World War II transports were proving inadequate in warfare. In 1951, the US approached a number of aircraft manufacturers to come up with a new transport. It would need to carry 92 passengers or 72 combat troops or 64 paratroopers, and 4-6 crew. A range of 1,250 miles was required and it would have to be capable of taking off from short, unprepared airstrips. The project went to tender and was won by Lockheed.

The YC-130 prototype made its first flight in 1954. More than 2,000 C-130s have since been built in Marietta, Georgia. There have been several models, starting with the C-130A, first delivered in 1956. Its range was found to be too short, and fuel capacity was increased. This model was in service throughout the Vietnam War, although no more were produced after 1959 when the C-130B was introduced. The new model had nearly 50 per cent more boost, better engines, increased fuel capacity, and four-bladed propellers. It was also used in Vietnam, for tactical airlift operations. After Vietnam, they were used by the Air Force Reserve and the Marine Corps. Some of the A and B models were fitted with skis and used by the Navy, redesignated as C-130Ds and LC130s respectively.

Next was the C-130E Hercules, used from 1962. It had structural improvements over previous models, more powerful engines, and greater fuel capacity. Successive models featured various improvements on previous models. For example, the C-130H had a glass cockpit, better color radar, and a night vision device. The N and P versions are used for search and rescue missions and can be refueled in-flight. Some C-130Es have been converted into civilian transports, called the Lockheed L-100. In all, there have been about 50 significant variants of the C-130 Hercules operating in 65 countries.

The C-130J is the latest model and the only one still built, although production was scaled back in 2005. This model uses state of the art technology and offers considerable cost savings compared with earlier versions. It climbs faster, flies higher, goes further, and needs less space to take off and land. It can cruise at 400 miles an hour, has a range of over 3,000 miles, and can reach an altitude of 28,000 feet.

The C-130 Hercules mainly performs airlift missions of troops and supplies into war zones. It can perform short takeoffs and landings on rough airstrips. As an airlift specialist, it has also been used for airlift support, rescue, medical missions, search and rescue, natural disaster relief, and Antarctic ice resupply. The aircraft can transport oversized cargo such as helicopters and large armored vehicles. It can carry and drop a load of up to 20 tons. The C-130 can be reconfigured quickly, allowing it to carry a variety of cargo, as well as personnel.

It is the heaviest aircraft to have ever landed on an aircraft carrier. As well as regularly carrying personnel and supplies, the C-130 can carry bombs too large for conventional bombers, including the Daisy Cutter and the MOAB, the two largest bombs. The C-130 carried Daisy Cutters in the Vietnam War to eliminate minefields and clear zones for helicopters to land. In the 1965 India-Pakistani War, Pakistan used them for attacks on bridges and enemy troops. They were used by Israeli Commandos in the Entebbe raid in 1976 to rescue 103 passengers from a hijacked airliner. For this mission, five C-130s flew more than 2,000 miles without refueling, carrying 200 troops, a number of jeeps, and a black Mercedes intended to look like the car used by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Argentina used C-130s in the 1982 Falklands War to take supplies to troops on the islands. It also used the KC-130 refueler. The British used C-130s too. Several nations employed C-130s in the Gulf War in 1991: the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. In the Afghanistan invasion, they were used by the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, and Spain. The Allies used them during the 2003 Iraq invasion. A C-130T model known as Fat Albert is a support aircraft to the Navy Blue Angels. It is seen at air shows where the Angels appear, performing flyovers and jet assisted takeoffs.

In the civilian sector, 22 C-130As were used by the US Forest Service as airtankers to fight bushfires, but were grounded in 2004 after two of them crashed when their wings separated due to stress cracking. In Queensland, Australia, a C-130 Hercules was called in when no ambulance or plane could take a 530 pound woman from Mount Isa to Townsville, 550 miles away.

The Hercules C-130 has served the US Air Force for more than 50 years, holding the record for continuous production of military aircraft. Primarily used as a troop and cargo aircraft, it has been successfully used for assault, bombing, search and rescue, aerial refueling, scientific research, aerial firefighting, and weather reconnaissance.