The Hércules C-130 is a plane manufactured by Lockheed Martin, from the United States, which made history not only in its homeland, but in 74 countries, including Brazil. The aircraft first manufactured in 1954 had more than 10,000 units produced to date, however, it is in the process of retiring.
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The Brazilian Air Force (FAB) has already confirmed that the military plane, used mainly for transport and on humanitarian missions, will bid farewell to the national fleet in 2023 or, at most, in 2024, the year in which the Hercules will complete its 70th anniversary.
The gigantic aircraft is a high-wing turboprop four-engine, measuring 40.4 meters in wingspan, 29.8 m in length and maximum takeoff weight of 69.7 tons. And will miss you. So, nothing better than knowing the history of this true icon of world aviation, right?
FreeGameGuide prepared informative content with many curiosities about Hercules in his almost 70 years of life. Did you know, for example, that the plane wasn’t baptized with that name for nothing? The choice refers to the son of Zeus in Greek philosophy, and makes reference to the strength of the aircraft in any situation, however challenging it may be.
To get an idea of the versatility of the Hércules C-130, the plane managed, among many successful operations at the service of the Brazilian Air Force, to land on small, unpaved runways in the Amazon, and even take the country to Antarctica by its own means. . On this last mission, however, an accident ended up stranding the C-130 unit and the plane only returned to Brazil after being dismantled.
Learn more about the Hércules and the many curious stories of one of the FAB’s most beloved planes below.
The Birth of Hercules
The imposing four-engine, now on the verge of retirement, was born out of necessity. The United States Army decided to modernize its air force fleet soon after another chapter of the interminable crisis with the now defunct Soviet Union, in 1951. The idea was to find an assault plane, capable of landing and taking off on any type of runway , no matter how short and bumpy it was.
The following year, the United States Air Force (USAF) accepted the project presented by Lockheed, called YC-130A, and ordered two aircraft. In December 1952, the C-130A entered service and began to make history around the world.
The C-130 Hercules and the FAB
Despite the sad ending of the chapter that involved the aircraft going to Antarctica, the history of the Hércules C-130 plane with the Brazilian Air Force is full of remarkable moments and happy endings.
The ‘Gordo’, affectionate nickname he earned from the FAB, arrived in the Brazilian fleet in 1964, in a C-130E model. From there, a lasting and successful relationship began. In all, there were 29 examples, passing through the SC-130E, C-130H and KC-130H, until reaching the modern C-130M, a version that replaced the ‘analog clocks’ with modern LCD screens.
The Hércules was of fundamental importance to the Brazilian Air Force. After all, it was using this plane that the FAB transported syringes, aprons, bacteriological filters and other hospital materials to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, took tons of supplies to the needy population in Mozambique and worked to combat countless fires. .
Two memorable missions of the Hércules in the service of the Brazilian Air Force were the participation in the search for the wreckage of flight AF447 that took place with the Airbus A330 of Air France, in 2009, which killed 216 passengers and 12 crew members, and the rescue of the bodies in the air accident that killed practically the entire squad of Chapecoense, in Colombia, in 2016.
The many “faces” of Hercules
The Hércules C-130 will retire leaving behind a legacy composed of several ‘faces’. The gigantic plane had, during its seven decades of existence, more than a dozen variations, from the two YF-130 prototypes to the C-130J, a modernized version of the freighter.
In total, there were 15 versions of the Hercules produced by the manufacturer and delivered to the Air Forces of 74 countries around the globe. There are, however, some models that stood out among the countless facets of the Hercules, either because of the ‘different’ look, or because of the functions (missions) assigned to it.
1. EC-130J (Commando Sollo II)
A unit on the Hércules received the name Comando Sollo II for carrying out a very particular and important service: acting in the so-called psychological missions. He worked for the Air National Guard, arm of the US Air Force, transmitting radio signals and, according to the Ministry of Defense, “aimed at motivating friendly, neutral and hostile target audiences to achieve desirable behaviors”.
2. JC-130 (Bucket Hunter)
The second Hercules that deserves to be highlighted for its unique history is the JC-130 model, which earned the nickname of Bucket Hunter. The reason? Exactly what the name means. The JC-130 was used, from the end of the 1950s, for photographic reconnaissance missions.
The way found to recover the films dropped by the satellites by means of ‘buckets’ that descended into the atmosphere with built-in parachutes, was to use the JC-130, which recovered them by ‘fishing’ with a hook. A cuter nickname for the role was ‘Star Catcher’.
3. C-130K (Snoopy)
Complementing the podium of Hércules aircraft models that deserve to be highlighted for their peculiar characteristics is the C-130K. The aircraft has a history of brilliant services provided to the British Royal Air Force (RAF), but what draws attention to it, without a doubt, is the look, shall we say, peculiar.
Used by the RAF for meteorological reconnaissance missions, it stood out for the huge striped probe on the nose, but that was not the look that earned it the nickname of Snoopy. The original radar was retracted and positioned above the cockpit. In its place, a new “nose” was placed, and it was this one (at the bottom of the photo) that became the ‘name’ of the little dog in comics and cartoons.
The heirs of “Gordo”
The ‘Gordo’, affectionate nickname given by the Brazilian Air Force to the Hércules C-130, already has an heir on the way. The new plane will be developed jointly by Sweden, France and Germany, and the project was named Future Mid-Size Tactical Cargo (FMTC)
According to a memorandum signed by the Permanent Structured Cooperation, the heir to ‘Gordo’ “will collectively and efficiently face the next transportation challenges in military operations or crisis response situations”. The new plane is expected to enter into operation from 2040.
This, however, should not be the only successor to the C-130 Hercules. The Dutch Ministry of Defense, for example, has already announced that it will include the Embraer C-390M, produced by the Brazilian company, in its fleet. Five planes will be manufactured and delivered to Europeans starting in 2026.
Other facts about Hercules
Aerial refueling: One of the multiple functions of the Hércules is to refuel other aircraft in mid-flight. According to the FAB, the KC-130 model carried out, on several occasions, the exercise with two F-5EM fighters.
Record holder: Hércules also owns a historic brand. The four-engine is the owner of the record for the production cycle of military aircraft, with the first example taking off on August 23, 1954.
Landed in a stadium: The YMC-130H participated in the Credible Sport mission. The idea was to adapt it to land and take off in a stadium. For this, several modifications were made, such as the installation of a set of rockets, ventral and dorsal fins and much more. The result? Success, of course.
Invoked Names: The Hercules has received some very interesting and imposing names in its many variants over the decades. Ghost rider, Spooky, Combat King, Super Hércules and Sombra de Combate were some of the many nicknames that other versions of the Lockheed C-130 have received to date.