There are two types of people: those who love clean, shiny machines, and those who love grimy machines. Some like a sparkling new Ferrari, some a mud covered Jeep. When it comes to airplanes, most folks favor the clean. Less parasite drag, right?
I fall in the grimy category, especially when it comes to airplanes. The dirtier the better, and I want real dirt (red dirt is my favorite). Dirt on the windows, dirt on the wings and maybe a little mud in the wheel wells, too. For my money, there aren’t too many things better than hitting a dirt strip in the mighty Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules. The result? A dirty bird.
Landing on unimproved airstrips has been the bread and butter of the tactical airlift community for over half a century. Known as a Maximum Effort Landing, the C-130 can operate in and out of dirt strips that measure 3000 feet long by 50 feet wide. For comparison, a similar size commercial jet airliner uses a paved runway that is at least 6000 feet long and 150 feet wide.
To get “dirt” qualified, new aircraft commanders go though a few of hours of ground school, then head the dirt strip with an instructor. In the first video we see the cockpit view from a C-130H2 with the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope Field while the AC gets her first dirt landing. The second shows the view from the ground as a C-130H “High Roller” from 152d Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard lands on a dirt strip in Central Wisconsin. In the final video, we see a C-130J from the Royal Danish Air Force as it hits the assault zone on a beach along the North Sea.
Landing a 130,000 pound airplane on a 3000 foot unimproved runway is no easy task. The key to a Max Effort Landing touching down is the 400 foot “assault zone,” a space that is equal to roughly four aircraft lengths and is marked by cerise panels located 100 feet and 500 from the landing threshold. Touch down in “the zone” and and you’re golden. Touch down outside the zone and it’s a mandatory go-around. If you look closely, you can seen the cerise panels in each of the videos.
These landing aren’t just for show. U.S. Air Force C-130s and other tactical air-lifters have been hitting the dirt and hauling the trash from Khe Sahn, Vietnam to Khost, Afghanistan. Their missions are vitally important to our nation’s warfighting capability and shall remain so.