Let me give you my completely biased opinion: the Lockeed-Martin C-130 Hercules is THE greatest  American airplane ever built. It’s not pretty and it’s not glamorous. It’s a down and dirty, get-the-job-done, blue-collar working person’s airplane.

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of its maiden flight on 23 August 1954, here are the top six reasons why  “The Four Fans of Freedom” is truly the Great American Airplane.

6. Unmatched Versatility

No single airframe has flown a greater variety of missions than the C-130: airlift; airdrop; gunship; tanker; search & rescue; airborne command post; electronic warfare; psychological operations; special operations; hurricane hunter; and firefighter, just to name a few. No less than 70 variants have been built. That versatility isn’t just limited to different models of the Herc, each individual aircraft also offers tremendous flexibility.

A C-130 can easily be reconfigured from troop carrier, to heavy equipment transport to an aeromedical evacuation flying ambulance in a matter of minutes. Nothing demonstrates this flexibility more than the last C-130 out of Saigon, South Vietnam.  On 29 April 1975, a C-130A, set up to carry it’s maximum load of 92 passengers plus a crew of 6, made a last ditch dash to freedom and took-off with a whopping 452 people on board.

Sixteen 317th Airlift Group C-130J Super Hercules prepare to take off for a training exercise July 2, 2012, at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The simulated mission was an airdrop above two different drop zones. Once the final aircraft was airborne, the 317th AG made history, flying the largest C-130J formation ever. The first C-130J was delivered April 16, 2010, by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. Dyess has since received 20 more and is scheduled to get a total of 28 Js, making it the largest C-130J unit in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Peter Thompson/ Released)
Sixteen 317th Airlift Group C-130J Super Hercules prepare to take off for a training exercise July 2, 2012, at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The simulated mission was an airdrop above two different drop zones. Once the final aircraft was airborne, the 317th AG made history, flying the largest C-130J formation ever. The first C-130J was delivered April 16, 2010, by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. Dyess has since received 20 more and is scheduled to get a total of 28 Js, making it the largest C-130J unit in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Peter Thompson/ Released)

5.  The Daisy Cutter and the Mother of All Bombs

The  C-130 is the only aircraft to carry and drop the 15,000-pound BLU-82B “Daisy Cutter” and its follow-on the 22,600-pound GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB)–also know as the  “Mother of All Bombs.”  At the time of their development, these bombs were the largest non-nuclear munitions ever built. Originally intended to destroy everything within an area a 1/4 mile in diameter for helicopter landing zones, the first BLU-82B was dropped in anger over Cambodia in 1970.

Since then they have been used in Operation DESERT STORM and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.  Radio intercepts indicated that the blast from the “Daisy Cutters” dropped in Afghanistan were so tremendous, the Al Qaeda and Taliban on the receiving end actually thought the Americans were using nuclear weapons.

Five Amazing C-130 Milestones

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4. Have Guns, Will Travel

The C-130 makes the the ultimate gunship and has been raining down destruction since 1966. Originally nicknamed the “Super Spook,” the first AC-130A “Spectre” and was armed with impressive array of six guns. Two 20mm Vulcan Gatling guns, two 7.62mm Mini Gatling guns and two 40mm Bofors Auto-cannons. The H model would replace the mini guns and one of the Bofors cannons with a 105mm Howitzer.

One of the best friends for our troops on the ground, these gunships have been providing precision close air support everywhere, from Vietnam to Grenada to Afghanistan and Iraq. The newest gunships, the AC-130J Ghostrider, have a 30mm GAU-23A chain gun in addition to some impressive standoff precision strike capabilities, including wing-mounted GBU-39 GPS-guided Small Diameter Bombs as well as laser-guided AGM-176 Griffin missiles fired from a “Gunslinger” magazine mounted one the rear cargo ramp.

An AC-130U Gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron flies a local training mission on January 27, 2011 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The AC-130U "Spooky" gunship is the primary weapon of Air Force Special Operations Command. Its primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. The U model is an upgraded version of the H and is equipped with side firing, trainable 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm guns. (US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock) (Released)
An AC-130U Gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron flies a local training mission on January 27, 2011 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The AC-130U “Spooky” gunship is the primary weapon of Air Force Special Operations Command. Its primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. The U model is an upgraded version of the H and is equipped with side firing, trainable 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm guns. (US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock) (Released)

3. No Runway? No Problem!

One of the original design requirements for he Hercules was the ability to take off and land on unimproved surfaces.  There is nothing like getting a 70 ton airplane muddy, so AFSOC and AMC crews are trained to operate on dirt, sand and gravel runways. Impressive, no doubt, but who needs a runway?  C-130D and LC-130H/J models have be landing on snow and ice ways using skis since 1957.  In October 1963, a Navy crew in a KC-130F refueler made several touch and go and full stop landings on the aircraft carrier U.S.S Forrestal.

An LC-130 Hercules from the 109th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard at Schenectady, takes off as part of Operation Deep Freeze, Feb. 2, in Antarctica. The 55th year for Operation Deep Freeze began in October 2010 as an LC-130 Hercules, equipped with retractable ski-wheels, departed to support the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation's research at international sites throughout the Antarctic continent. The 109th AW is the only organization in the world that flies the ski-equipped LC-130s.
An LC-130 Hercules from the 109th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard at Schenectady, takes off as part of Operation Deep Freeze, Feb. 2, in Antarctica. The 55th year for Operation Deep Freeze began in October 2010 as an LC-130 Hercules, equipped with retractable ski-wheels, departed to support the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation’s research at international sites throughout the Antarctic continent. The 109th AW is the only organization in the world that flies the ski-equipped LC-130s.

How about landing a 130 in a soccer stadium? Following the tragic event in 1980 at Desert One during the failed attempt to rescue Americans held hostage in Iran, the Pentagon continued to pursue options to bring them home.  The leading plan was to land two modified MC-130s on the 300 foot soccer pitch in the stadium across the street from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Code-named “Credible Sport,” a C-130H was modified with 30 rockets to make the short field take-off and landing. Unfortunately, the first test aircraft had a rocket failure and subsequent hard landing that resulted in the destruction of the aircraft.  Further testing as part of Credible Sport II proved the potential of the concept.

2. It puts the “Air” in Airborne

Feel free to sing along:  ♫…C-130 rolling down the strip! Airborne Daddy gonna take a little trip…♫

There is a reason why the best Airborne and Ranger Jodys all include the mighty Hercules. The C-130 is a perennial fixture at the Basic Airborne School at Ft Benning, and on Green Ramp at Pope Field in Fort Bragg.  A single Herc can airdrop everything from 64 jumpers to a M551 Sheridan Light Tank (now retired) to HMMWVs to 30-ton front-end loaders.

Two C-130 formations totaling 58 aircraft, 29 for personnel and 29 for heavy equipment, using the Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System, can drop over 1,800 paratroopers plus their vehicles and artillery anywhere in the world without ever making visual contact with the drop zone.  This storm of American military might have ruined the day of several two-bit dictators in the 80s and 90s.

A C-130 Hercules airdrops supplies for coalition Forces in Sayed Abad district, Wardak province, Afghanistan, Jan. 7, 2014. (U.S. Navy Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William S. Parker/Released)
A C-130 Hercules airdrops supplies for coalition Forces in Sayed Abad district, Wardak province, Afghanistan, Jan. 7, 2014. (U.S. Navy Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William S. Parker/Released)

1. Haulin’ Trash World Wide for 60 Years and Counting

Following that first flight in 1954, the C-130 flew its initial operational mission in 1957. C-130 crews helped transport over 11,500 soldiers from the 101 Airborne Division to Little Rock, AR when President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Army to escort 9 black students to and from class at Central High School.  Since then, the C-130 has participated in every major U.S. military and humanitarian relief operation around the world. Only a few days ago, USAF C-130s were airdropping food and water to refugees over northern Iraq.

To date, more than 2,700 C-130s have been built. As with other great American products like Coca Cola and the iPhone, the C-130 has enjoyed world wide popularity.  67 countries thane or have had the the C-130 in their inventories.

In the days of trillion dollar deficits and bloated federal budgets, it is rare for the Department of Defense acquisition program to seem like a good deal. Through some amazing ingenuity, the U.S. Air Force and the Lockheed Corporation managed to create an aircraft that has ended up giving unparalleled value to the American tax payer and the world. They designed an airlifter that has served the U.S. faithfully for six decades and has gone on to become THE great American airplane.