The Lockheed-Martin C-130 Hercules airlifter has done some incredible things. The Blue Angels and Fat Albert are prime examples. C-130s adapted for aerial firefighting have saved lives and property. The memorable demonstration of the LM-100J at RIAT 2018. But a long time ago, back when the venerable Herc was practically brand new, the Four Horsemen were the world’s only four-ship flight demonstration team to fly four engine aircraft. And they flew the C-130A Hercules. These guys might have been the first to coin the phrase “go big or go home.” This is their story.
Formed by four pilots with the 774th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS) Green Weasels, based at first at Ardmore Air Force Base (AFB) in Oklahoma and later Sewart AFB near Smyrna in Tennessee, the Four Horsemen flew 23 minute long performances in their Lockheed C-130A Hercules airlifters highlighted by the Horsemen Burst– a bomb burst maneuver similar to the sort of stunt for which the Air Force’s more prominent flight display team, the Thunderbirds, were justifiably famous. This video was uploaded to YouTube by LockheedMartinVideos. Enjoy!
The film was produced in 1960. The story actually begins in September of 1956, when the 774th became the first squadron to be equipped with the new Lockheed C-130A Hercules. In early 1957 pilots Captain Gene Chaney, Captain Jim Aiken, Captain David Moore, and Captain Bill Hatfield figured they’d try some close formation flying after their paratrooper drop mission with the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell in Kentucky was cancelled due to high winds. The team dubbed themselves the Thunder Weasels as a conglomeration of Green Weasels and Thunderbirds, at first, but came up with the moniker Four Horsemen later.
With prior approval from Tactical Air Command TAC), the Four Horsemen first performed in front of the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Sewart AFB in 1957. The 314th got an eyeful of what their own new C-130As could do, courtesy of the Four Horsemen, who were in fact delivering their first Hercules airlifters to them at the time. It didn’t take long for TAC to grant the team official status. The team didn’t have C-130As assigned to them, but they did their best to keep their crews, consisting of pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, and observer, together. The team began their performances with a diamond formation short takeoff demonstration. Propeller propulsion necessitated that the slot aircraft fly above, rather than below, the lead aircraft. Their maneuvers were often flown with separations of ten feet or less. Landings were also performed in the diamond formation.
Flying the Hercules the way the Four Horsemen did could provide for interesting challenges. It was said that the Hercules was overpowered when unburdened by cargo- so much so that the lead Four Horsemen C-130A once lost an engine at the beginning of a performance. After shutting down their #4 Allison T-56 engine, lead and the team flew the entire performance as they normally would. The Four Horsemen crews were squadron guys too, meaning they deployed with their squadrons wherever and whenever they went- wearing only a distinctive horse head with a superimposed IV patch on their standard flight suits.
By early 1960 the original Four Horsemen aircraft commanders, who had been some of the first in the Air Force to fly the C-130A and indeed had picked the first couple of them up from the Lockheed factory, were the most experienced guys in type- meaning it was time for the fun to end. When the new C-130B variant began replacing the C-130As and the C-130As were being transferred to squadrons overseas, David Moore retired back to his home state of Texas but the remaining three high-timer C-130A aircraft commanders went with them. By spring the Four Horsemen were but a memory. But an entirely unique and highly compelling memory.