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Sexing the C-130 Hercules

Sexing the C-130 Hercules

by Michael Benolkin


If you've seen one C-130, you've seen them all, right? They all look alike don't they? Perhaps to the untrained eye, but modelers have a talent for picking out the details, especially once someone shows them what those details mean. In this article, we'll take a look at the C-130 and how to distinguish one from another. I'll try to avoid too many war stories along the way and I'll even show you a few photos of the Hercs that I crewed as well as some from two other Cybermodeler C-130 crew dogs - Kelly Jamison and Stephen Sutton. But first things first: Hercules 101.

Note: If you're looking for a history of the C-130, check the USAF Fact Files.

Part One - Production Models

In the beginning...there was the YC-130. This thing first flew a month before I was born. Like every other aircraft in the USAF in the 1950s, the early Hercs were bare metal.


The C-130 brought together a number of key features:

  • Four engine airlift and multi-engine reliability
  • The Allison T56 turboprop engine for excellent power
  • Rear ramp and door that can also be opened in flight to paradrop troops, cargo, and bombs
  • Rugged landing gear for unimproved runway operations

The YC-130 and early C-130s were nicknamed the 'Roman Nose' because of its distinctive nose profile. The early Hercs had radar, but it was a minimal capability. Later C-130As (and subsequent models) received the more common porpoise-nosed radome that moved the radar further forward and allowed for a larger radar with more capabilities. Many of the Roman-nosed aircraft were retrofitted with the new radar/radome as well.

The other distinguishing feature unique to the C-130A was the Aero Products three-bladed propeller. It made a sound unlike any other engine/propeller combination. At ground idle, it had a mild low roar, but when the throttles were moved into take-off power, the propellers created a deep roar that was gut wrenching. The early Super Guppies used the same engine/propeller combination and you could hear them coming...

More range was sought for the C-130A so later production C-130As were fitted with a pair of 450-gallon fuel tanks suspended under pylons outboard of engines one and four. These were also retrofitted onto the many of the earlier production C-130As.


The C-130B introduced several improvements including:

  • The four-bladed Hamilton-Standard propeller that would power every C-130 variant up to (but not including) the C-130J. These were even retrofitted to many of the C-130As
  • Additional fuel bays in the wing center section which allowed for more range without the C-130A's external tanks

Of all of the C-130s (prior to the J), the C-130B was considered the 'sport model'. While the C-130E/H had the aileron responsiveness of a Cessna 182 (or a dump truck), I was told by my squadron mates that the C-130B had the aileron response of a Spitfire. The C-130B was never fitted with external tanks (though a few special mission birds did get tanks hung out there, but there wasn't any gas in there...).


The C-130F was the designation applied to the C-130Bs procured by the US Navy and made famous by this aircraft, the Blue Angels' "Fat Albert". Fat Albert not only provides logistics air support for the team on their airshow tours around the globe, but they also get into the act by showing off the unique capabilities of the C-130 during the team's performance. One feature common to the C-130 as shown in this photo is the provision for Rocket-Assisted Take-Off (RATO). These rockets will get you off of a short runway and over obstacles off the end of the runway with no problem. Simply apply take-off power and once you're sure you have four good engines, release brakes and ignite the RATO bottles. Those rockets will get you off the ground in a few hundred feet, propel you skyward several hundred feet, and still leave enough thrust to accelerate away before the motors burn out.


The C-130E was the next Hercules in the production pipeline. This was essentially a C-130B that featured the new Allison T56-A-7 (referred to as "Dash 7") engines and a pair of Sergeant Fletcher 1360-gallon fuel tanks mounted between the inboard and outboard engines. This additional power and fuel capacity provided the C-130E with improved range and cargo capacity (thanks to a higher gross weight). The C-130E would become one of the mainstays of US and allied airlift for more than a decade.


The C-130H was next in the production pipeline incorporating several key improvements over the C-130E

  • The Gas Turbine Compressor (GTC) was replaced by an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU)
  • The new Allison Dash 15 (T56-A-15) replaced the Dash 7 offering nearly 500 more shaft horsepower per engine

Okay, so you're looking at the C-130E and C-130H images and can't see the differences, eh? That's why we're here. Patience Grasshopper, we'll dive into more details soon.


Take a look at this Herc. This is also a C-130H but it has been stretched with fuselage plugs in front of and behind the wing. This additional internal cargo space makes better use of the additional power provided by the Dash 15 engines. The stretched C-130H is designated as C-130H-30 and is flown by several customers including the US and the RAF, as in the example above designated as Hercules C.3 (or C-130K). The RAF also added an aerial refueling probe over the cockpit to allow the aircraft to be refueled in-flight. We've done something similar, but more on that later.


Here is the C-130J. On the outside, it looks like any other C-130, but on the inside it is a whole new aircraft. Like the C-130H, the C-130J comes in standard length and a similar stretched airframe. Externally, the most notable differences are the new Dowty 6-blade propellers mounted to the Rolls Royce AE 2100 engines. Rolls Royce? No, they didn't really make a radical change in engine selection for the C-130J, Rolls Royce bought out Allison so the next generation T56 became the AE 2100. Notice that black panel on the front of the vertical fin? That is a new low-drag HF radio antenna in there. Gone are the two wire antennas that ran from either side of the cockpit back to the upper portion of the vertical stabilizer on all previous Hercs.

In the coming installments, we'll look closer at the distinguishing differences of the standard airlifters, then take a look at the special mission aircraft and their unique features. Stay tuned!

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