Sixty (60) years ago saw the first flight of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. Originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation, and cargo transport aircraft, the airframe was adapted over the years to airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research, aerial refuelling, patrol, and aerial firefighting — and now it is the main tactical airliner for military forces around the globe. There are now over 40 models and variants of the Hercules in service in more than sixty (60) countries.
With a range of 1,300 miles or 2,000 kilometers, take-off capability from short and unprepared strips, and the ability to fly with one engine shut down, back in 1954, the new Hercules represented a considerable step forward in supply and transport capability. And this was just the beginning. A number of enhancements have been made to the Hercules over the years to the point where it’s still poised to be the transport vehicle of choice for years to come. Right now, the US Air Mobility Command, Air Force Materiel Command, and the Air Force Research Labs are in the early stages of defining requirements for the C-X next generation airlifted program to replace the C-130s and C-17s. But this isn’t the first time a program has been proposed to replace, rather than improve, the C-130s. Programs to replace the C-130s were proposed as early as the 1980s, but the end result was always improvement of the C-130 design. The most likely outcome is a next generation C-X that takes into account everything learned over the years and produces a next generation Hercules transport vehicle.