A very secretive and little-known Air Force training program has been responsible for supporting and enabling special operation units and missions for many decades. Introducing the SOLL, or Special Operations Low-Level, program.


Origins of SOLL and the Iranian Hostage Crisis

Sometime in the late 1970s, the Carter administration decided that the U.S. needed a larger and better-suited airlift capability for its special operations missions.

The MC-130, which was used at the time, was a perfect insertion and extraction aircraft for a small group of commandos. Yet, the MC-130 had a limited cargo area and could not accommodate a larger number of troops. This had to be rectified.

With these thoughts in mind, the SOLL program was created. Under the program, aircrews, using modified airframes, trained in special operations skillset and capabilities.

Initially, C-130 and C-141 crews from the 437th Airlift Wing were trained in the SOLL I and SOLL II programs, respectively.

US hostages return home Iranian crisis
U.S. hostages return home after 444 days of captivity in Iran. (DoD)

When the Iranian hostage crisis occurred it seemed like the perfect opportunity to employ SOLL. However, neither SOLL I nor SOLL II were ultimately used during the hostage rescue, and the SOLL I program was discontinued — but the SOLL II program expanded.

These SOLL II operators initially flew unmodified C-141 Starlifters. As time progressed, these Starlifters were modified with advanced navigation equipment, IR cameras and sensors, and NV capabilities. The 437th SOLL II program flew first in support of the invasion of Grenada in 1983. Since then, it has flown in support of numerous airlift operations throughout the world.