The Lockheed KC-130 Hercules is a combination tanker-transport aircraft based on the hugely successful like of high-wing C-130 Hercules transports. The KC-130 is a tactically-minded unit with an inter-theater reach developed to refuel and resupply forward-operating bases near the operational fronts. Beyond its refueling and resupply transport roles, the KC-130 can also be called upon to under MEDEVAC sorties, conduct insertion/extraction of allied troops and serve as a flying Direct Air Support Center (DASC). The KC-130 retains all of the same flying characteristics and general performance specifications found in the original C-130. The initial KC-130F Hercules models arrived in 1962.
The KC-130 first flew in prototype (GV-1) form during January of 1960. Initial models were six KC-130Bs modified from their transport forms to serve as in-flight refueling tankers. Forty-Six KC-130F models then followed in 1962 - marking the first definitive and quantitative production forms. The KC-130H appeared across thirty-three examples. In 1976, the KC-130R was introduced and these were fourteen ex-USAF mounts transferred into USMC service. The KC-130T followed in 1983, some 28 examples modified from C-130H Hercules transport airframes. The KC-130J "Super Hercules" arrived in April of 2004 as a much revised and improved model - sharing only 55% commonality in parts with previous airframes - and these have numbered 42 examples. These were based on the new C-130J Super Hercules variant. The KC-130F and the KC-130R have were then retired in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
Since its inception, the KC-130 was used in the combat zones of Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm and in ongoing American operations throughout Afghanistan and Iraq. As the aircraft also proved a favorite among foreign operators, it also saw use in the Falklands War under the Argentine flag. Other operators became Brazil, Canada, Israel, Italy, Japan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore.
The current-generation KC-130J features a crew of four to include two pilots, a crew chief and a loadmaster. The cargo bay can manage up to 92 seated passengers or 64 combat-ready airborne troopers. In their place the aircraft can carry up to three HUMVEE-sized vehicles or a single Armored Personnel Carrier / Infantry Fighting Vehicle as required. For the MEDEVAC role, the system can house up to 74 patient litters along with two corresponding medical staff. In terms of cargo proper, the KC-130 can haul approximately six pallets for a payload maximum of 42,000lbs.
Dimensions include a length of 97 feet, 9 inches, with a wingspan of 132 feet, 7 inches and a height of 38 feet, 10 inches. Empty weight is 75,560lbs with a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 175,000lbs. Power is served through 4 x Rolls-Royce AR2100D3 turboprop engines providing 4,640 horsepower each. These drive six-blade composite propeller assemblies. Performance includes a maximum speed of 420 miles per hour, a cruising speed of 400 miles per hour, a range out to 3,260 miles and a service ceiling of 28,000 feet.
The KC-130 retains the rough- field/short-field operating capabilities of the Hercules line, capable of taking off and landing on unprepared runways and requiring a take-off distance of just 3,125 feet with a 155,000lb operating weight. The high wing design provides the necessary low-level control and lift needed for such actions. The pilots are also offered a commanding view from their flight deck perched high above and aft the short nose cone. A powered door at the rear of the fuselage facilitates loading/unloading of cargo. For the refueling role, four pods are fitted between each of the four engine installation.