The Lockheed C-130A Hercules first became operational on June 12th 1956 with the United States Air Force (USAF) 463d Troop Carrier Wing at Ardmore Air Force Base (AFB) in Oklahoma and the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Stewart AFB in Tennessee. These initial early-model “roman nose” Hercules and “thimble nose” C-130Bs also equipped six more Troop Carrier squadrons as part of the 322nd Air Division in Europe and the 315th Air Division in the Far East. Beginning a long tradition of adaptation and specialization, some C-130As were modified for electronic intelligence work, operating from Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany over and sometimes behind the Iron Curtain and designated EC-130A. Still more C-130As were modified and designated RC-130As. These first reconnaissance Hercs were assigned to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) photo-mapping division.
The C-130 Hercules went on to become one of the most versatile and adaptable airframes ever developed. There have been standard “vanilla” C-130 airlifters and “trash haulers”, C-130s modified and equipped with skis to operate in arctic conditions, C-130s modified to become flying radio and television stations, C-130s modified to communicate with the nation’s nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, C-130s modified to aerial refuel other probe-equipped aircraft and helicopters, and C-130s adapted for use as search and rescue support and command aircraft. There have been six different gunship versions for close-air support equipped with all manner of weaponry and precision sensors.
Hercs have flown into hurricanes and typhoons to gather storm data, controlled all manner of aerial drones, flown airborne early warning and control, electronic eavesdropping, and jamming missions, and inserted and supported personnel behind borders and enemy lines by flying we-were-never-there, nap-of-the-earth ingress and egress routes. C-130s do aerial firefighting, recover spy satellites and their “take”- there are even Hercules tankers that can be converted to gunships on the spot and back again after mission completion. C-130s have been flying for the United States Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard for 61 years and counting. They also serve with scores of foreign countries and several civil operators. It’s a pretty good bet that C-130s have visited every country on the planet at one time or another. It all started on June 12th 1956.