Good Morning—-welcome to the 3DB and thanks for allowing us to be a part of your week. Today I want to talk about an airplane that I had the pleasure to fly for 5 years when I worked a State Department contract flying in to Eastern Europe after the wall fell. Great airplane, even if it is the world’s nosiest airplane, with lots of capabilities.
If this design is really as terrible as Kelly Johnson says it is, the Air Force will think that, too, and they’ll give the contract to somebody else. I think we ought to submit the proposal.” With those words, Willis Hawkins convinced his boss, Hall Hibbard, then the vice president and chief engineer of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, to submit the proposal for the aircraft that would become the C-130 Hercules. It was 10 April 1951.
Hawkins was thirty-seven years old at the time and in charge of the Advanced Design department for Lockheed. He led the team that in a little over two months had come up with the design for what was being called the Model 82 in response to a US Air Force request for proposal for a new transport.
The idea for this new transport came at the end of a hastily called budget meeting a week after the Korean War broke out in June 1950. Participants at the meeting formulated ideas for spending additional research and development money. An Air Force colonel, whose name is lost to history, remarked that the service needed an extremely rugged medium transport that could land on unprepared airstrips. The aircraft, to be used primarily for freight transport, needed to carry about 30,000 pounds to a range of 1,500 miles. It also needed the capability to carry troops.
The additional funds stayed in the budget, as did most of that colonel’s proposed requirements. The Air Force issued a general operational requirement on 2 February 1951 to Boeing, Douglas, Fairchild, and Lockheed for a transport able to: (1) carry ninety-two infantrymen or sixty-four paratroopers on a mission with a combat radius of 1,100 nautical miles or, alternatively, a 30,000-pound cargo more than 960 miles; (2) operate from short, unprepared airstrips of clay, sand, or humus soil; (3) slow down to 125 knots for paradrops and even slower for assault landings; (4) have both a rear ramp operable in flight for heavy equipment drops and side doors for paratroop drops; (5) handle bulky and heavy equipment including bulldozers, artillery pieces, and trucks; and (6) fly with one engine out.
Hawkins, ninety years old and still mentally sharp and physically active at the time of this interview in 2004, recalls that the Air Force’s request for proposal contained only seven pages. “We got the RFP and set up teams to look at performance, develop a description of the aircraft, and determine weight. We also had to estimate development cost.
A Short Meeting
“Our proposal was bigger than the Air Force’s seven-page RFP, but still only about 130 pages and maybe three-quarters of an inch thick. We took it to Hibbard so he could sign a letter that committed the company to our estimates. We also brought a design model, which had a wingspan of about fifteen inches. Hall looked at the model, thumbed through the proposal, and asked a few questions. Then he asked, ‘Has Kelly seen this?’ We said, no, we haven’t seen Johnson for a couple of months. He’s working on something secret [which turned out to be the F-104] and hasn’t been around. Hibbard said, ‘Well, Kelly ought to look at it.’
“Hibbard was Johnson’s boss. So when Hall called, Kelly had to come. Kelly looked at the model and thumbed through the performance part of the proposal. He then said, ‘Hibbard, if you sign that letter, you will destroy the Lockheed Company.’ And with that he walked out of the office.
“Kelly wasn’t much interested in the transport. It didn’t carry bombs, didn’t have machine guns, and didn’t fly Mach 3. After an awkward pause, Hibbard finally said, ‘Well, Willy, that model has a lovely finish.’ I went back to work on Hibbard. I said, look, the Air Force expects us to submit a proposal. We told them we would, and we have to get it in the mail today.”
Hibbard signed the letter and Johnson did, in the end, sign off on the proposal. Lockheed was informed that the company had won the competition on 2 July 1951. Nine days later, the Air Force awarded the formal contract for two prototypes to be designated YC-130.
A Long Association
That encounter in Hall Hibbard’s office was probably the biggest disagreement between Willis Hawkins and Kelly Johnson. But it was not the first time the two engineering geniuses hadn’t quite seen eye to eye.
“In the late 1930s, Kelly knew that the P-38 needed counter-rotating propellers,” Hawkins recalls. “But he was convinced they needed to rotate toward the pilot with the blades coming over the top. Several of us had to convince him they needed to rotate away from the pilot with the blades coming up from the bottom. We tried it both ways in flight test and our choice better counteracted the torque and was a little safer for the pilot. The P-38 became a more docile, pilot-friendly flying machine after that.”
The two men first met in 1933, when Johnson, then assistant to Hibbard, brought the Lockheed Model 10 to the wind tunnel at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Hawkins, then an undergraduate, ran the wind tunnel.
“The original Electra design had a single vertical tail, which didn’t have enough area. So the aircraft had stability and dead engine control problems,” Hawkins notes. “Kelly came up with the idea of putting endplates on the horizontal tail. The plates not only provided enough area, they put the tails into the slipstream behind the engine, which made for better control.” Johnson and Hawkins fabricated the new verticals for the model in the tunnel shop and the design change worked. The Electra was a huge success; 148 aircraft were built. The Electra became a direct ancestor to the storied Hudson patrol bomber in World War II.
“We faced a similar stability problem with the Constellation a decade later,” Hawkins adds. “The original design had two tails, but they didn’t provide enough stability for the big airliner. We couldn’t make the twin tails taller because then the design wouldn’t fit in TWA’s hangars. We couldn’t extend them from the bottom of the stabilizer, because they would scrape the runway when it landed. I came up with the idea of the third vertical.” The triple tail became the Constellation’s most notable design feature.
Hail To The Victors
Hawkins, the only child of a divorced mother, attended an experimental high school established by the head of a summer camp where he had worked. “Five of us were in the school’s first graduating class,” Hawkins recalls. “Unfortunately, the school was not accredited anywhere in the world.
“I decided to go to the University of Michigan, but I was told I had to take fifteen exams and then I still might not get in. Well, I didn’t want to do that. I enrolled in a little college in Illinois that had about 1,200 students. I took all the math and physics courses there I could. Then I transferred to Michigan.
“I had taken years of advanced physics courses at Michigan and passed them all. But I hadn’t taken one particular transfer student physics course. The physics department wasn’t going to let me graduate because I hadn’t taken the course. I left and took a job in industry. After a year, I came to my senses, went back to school, and took some graduate courses. Only then did I get special dispensation to finally get my degree.” Decades later, Hawkins received an honorary doctorate, but only after the university chancellor had smoothed things over with the physics department about that Physics 101 course missing from his transcript.
Hawkins, his college roommate, and a mutual friend all received telegrams from Lockheed Aircraft in 1937. “I was probably hired on the basis of Kelly’s recommendation,” Hawkins says. “That telegram noted my starting salary of $1,500 a year. All three of us lived out our professional lives at Lockheed, and we were all quite successful.”
Coincidentally, after Hawkins moved to California, he would later buy a house from Allan Lockheed, one of the brothers who had started the company in 1913. After Lockheed Aircraft had gone into receivership for a week in 1932, Allan became so disgusted with the airplane business, he took up real estate as a career.
Designing The Hercules
A number of Lockheed legacy aircraft carry Hawkins’ fingerprints. He was a structural component designer on the P-38, the Hudson, and Lodestar. In 1947, he organized and headed the team that developed the X-7 ramjet test vehicle. He was the head of the preliminary design group that produced the Constellation, P-80, XF-90, F-94, and F-104. Then came the C-130.
“Doing things for the US government is always little bit complicated,” Hawkins observes. “The C-130 program was a little simpler. The RFP had a list of payloads the Air Force needed to carry in the new plane. That set the height and weight of the cargo compartment. It is a great compliment to the Air Force that the people who wrote the requirement did it right the first time. They had no predisposition to what the aircraft should look like. The Tactical Air Command guys who were going to get the airplane knew what the requirements were, and how it looked was up to us.
“We basically took the dimensions of the biggest piece of equipment the Air Force had specified, drew a circle around its cross section, and turned the circle into a tube about the length of a railroad boxcar. We put wings, a nose and a tail on it, and we had the design,” Hawkins adds. “We put the aircraft low to the ground so we could use the ramp to get cargo on and off easily.”
The design team recognized that this was the first tactical cargo aircraft the Air Force had designed from scratch. “Even though Kelly didn’t agree, we thought the C-130 might have a good span of production for the Air Force,” Hawkins notes. “As soon as the Air Force started flying the aircraft, other air forces came to us and started asking questions about it.”
Lockheed built a full-scale mockup of the complete fuselage, one engine, and a section of wing. The government held its first mockup board review session in the mockup itself. “We put the tables and projectors on the cargo floor,” Hawkins says. “After the review, the Air Force didn’t change much with the design aside from some detail changes in the cockpit. We didn’t mind making those changes since we had not built the prototypes.”
In the days when the C-130 was conceived, all the commercial transports — DC 4, DC 5, Stratoliner, and Constellation — had a flight engineer. “Pilots thought the aircraft had too many engines to keep track of, so the planes couldn’t have a two-pilot operation,” observes Hawkins. “The copilot and the flight engineer ran the aircraft, and the pilot flew it. The C-130 came at a transition time. Nobody was used to turbine engines, and the Allison T56 engine was complicated for its day. No one was certain how much equipment to put in the flight engineer’s station to keep those engines running.”
Dick Pulver, who had been a project engineer on the P-38 and Constellation, was chosen to be the lead engineer on the C-130. “We set up a separate organization for those two prototypes and set aside a piece of the factory for production. Dick Pulver did a beautiful job of running it,” Hawkins adds. “The two aircraft were delivered on schedule and on cost. The test pilots gave the aircraft a good wringing out. The performance matched our estimates.”
Into The Air; Into Production
The first flight of the YC-130, which was actually the second aircraft built, came on 23 August 1954 with company test pilots Stan Beltz, who was later killed in an F-94 mishap, and Roy Wimmer at the controls. Dick Stanton was the flight engineer, and Jack Real was the flight test engineer. During the sixty-one minute flight, the aircraft was flown from Burbank to the Air Force Flight Test Station at nearby Edwards AFB. Johnson, whose thinking on the C-130 had changed dramatically as the aircraft was being built, flew in the chase aircraft, a P2V Neptune.
The second YC-130 prototype, the first aircraft off the line, was used in the ground-based static test program, and was finally flown for the first time on 21 January 1955.
With production of the T-33, Constellation, and Neptune in full swing, Burbank facilities had no space for an additional production line. Shortly after Lockheed won the contract for the YC-130s, officials decided to move the program to the company’s new factory in Georgia if the C-130 went into production.
“We had just reopened Air Force Plant 6 in Marietta, mainly for license production of the B-47 Stratojet,” notes Hawkins. “Lockheed and Douglas had won the right to be the second-source producers for the bomber. We were already cleaning up the Marietta plant and decided it had plenty of room for C-130 production.
“We sent the whole design team to Georgia, as they were in charge of working up the production proposal to the Air Force,” recalls Hawkins. “Most of them went kicking and screaming, because they didn’t want to have anything to do with Georgia. Two years later, we tried to bring them back to California and they were kicking and screaming again because they liked Georgia so much that they didn’t want to come back. The Hercules has been in Georgia ever since.
“The design team changed some things to make the C-130 cheaper to produce, but not too much. The visual differences between the production aircraft and the prototypes are not noticeable,” Hawkins notes. “What has happened with the C-130 since those early days has been absolutely remarkable.”
On To Other Things
After working on the XFV experimental vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, Hawkins was tapped to start the new Lockheed Missiles and Space Division in Sunnyvale, California, near San Francisco.
“I was one of the founders of Missiles and Space and eventually ended up running the space half,” Hawkins recalls. Among other things, he headed the X-17 reentry test vehicle and the UGM-27 Polaris sea-launched ballistic missile program — the US Navy’s first SLBM — for which he was awarded the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Medal.
“One of my projects while at Missiles and Space was declassified around 2001,” Hawkins notes. “We were taking pictures of Russia from space, and if you don’t think the Corona satellite program had some adventures….” Some of those adventures included having one entire satellite crash in Antarctica and another one lost in Finland.
The first successful Corona mission came on the thirteenth try, but the canister containing the film that was ejected was lost when it came down 1,200 miles from where it was expected.
After the fourteenth launch, the film canister, known as a bucket, was recovered. “A presidential aide mentioned to Eisenhower that it was the first object to have ever been recovered from space. The president picked up on that and insisted that the bucket be presented to the Smithsonian,” Hawkins recalls. “So there was Eisenhower, Gen. Bernard Schriever [the architect of the Air Force’s ballistic missile program], and half a dozen Washington big wheels at the Smithsonian for a formal ceremony. I have never figured out what story they told to explain how that bucket got to the museum.”
A JC-130, a Hercules modified for testing, was used for midair recovery of the photographic buckets from later Corona missions.
Hawkins served as assistant secretary for research and development for the Army from 1962 to 1965, where he was instrumental in starting development of the M1 Abrams main battle tank. He then returned to Lockheed and took Hibbard’s spot on the board of directors, and retired from day-to-day activity in the early 1980s. Lockheed chairman Roy Anderson brought Hawkins back to run the Lockheed California Company on an interim basis in the 1980s. Hawkins retired for good in 1986.
Back To Lockheed
Even in retirement, Hawkins was called on as a consultant. During flight test on the C-130J, test crews got the aircraft down to what should have been the stall speed, but it kept on flying. “At that point, the crew started wondering what the actual stall speed was,” notes Hawkins. “They slowed down and slowed down some more and nothing. Suddenly, at a very slow speed, the C-130 did a snap roll and it scared the hell out of the crew. It looked like we had a problem. The aircraft wouldn’t stall.
Engineers determined that the new six-bladed propellers on the C-130J cleaned the boundary layer of air off the root of the wing. I spent a couple of months in Georgia helping them work that out. A better boundary layer control system could not be designed intentionally,” Hawkins adds. “We tried vortex generators, rakes, fences, and leading edge stall strips, but could not get it to stall. We ended up installing a stick pusher, just like in a fighter, that takes over and pushes the nose down. You still can’t stall that aircraft.”
He views the C-130 as one of his greatest successes: “The C-130 is not exactly an attractive aircraft. It is still in production and still doing the job it was designed for. Originally, some questioned who would want to buy such an aircraft. Irv Culver, one of our engineers, said that if we make it right the first time, we could sell it to anybody. I think we must have done it exactly right.”
Willis Hawkins died at his home in Woodland Hills, California, on 28 September 2004, at age ninety, shortly after this interview was first published.
In early March 2005, a crew from Marine Refueler Transport Squadron 352 (VMGR-352) at MCAS Miramar, California, picked up a new KC-130J—the fourth new aircraft for the squadron—from the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, Georgia. The unit’s ongoing conversion meant that the time had come to retire one the squadron’s older aircraft.
Like nearly every other tanker in the US Marine Corps fleet, Bureau Number 149798 had seen its share of action in Vietnam, Iraq in Operation Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq again in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Unlike most other aircraft that had served out its career, the final destination for this specific tanker was not to be the aircraft Boneyard in Arizona. This aircraft was a little different. When the VMGR-352 crew shut this KC-130F’s engines down for the last time on 1 March 2005, the aircraft was parked at Forrest Sherman Field, NAS Pensacola, Florida, where it was to be enshrined in what was then known as the National Museum of Naval Aviation.
“The fact that aircraft was finally retired in 2005 is proof that I didn’t bang it up too badly,” joked retired Rear Adm. Jim Flatley. In the fall of 1963, Flatley was the pilot who first landed this particular Hercules on an aircraft carrier.
This Idea Won’t Go Anywhere
“There were engineers taking measurements on a Hercules and saying a C-130 was going to land on an aircraft carrier,” recalled Ed Brennan in a 1998 interview. “I didn’t believe them. Later my commanding officer came around and said the same thing. I still didn’t believe it, but I raised my hand to volunteer anyway. I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Brennan, then an Aviation Machinist Mate First Class (ADR-1), attached to Transport Squadron One (VR-1) at the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, when his commanding officer made that startling announcement—the Test Center was indeed developing a program to land a Hercules on an aircraft carrier. And Brennan, along with ADR-1 Al Sieve, was going to be the two flight engineers assigned to the project.
The idea of taking a big aircraft with a 132-foot wingspan and landing it on what is frequently described as a postage stamp did seem farfetched. However, there was a legitimate operational requirement to test the carrier suitability of the Hercules.
The was an emergency need to resupply a carrier operating in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a common operation today but an unanticipated requirement forty decades ago. The Grumman C-1 Trader, then the Navy’s carrier onboard delivery, or COD, transport, did not have the required range nor could it carry an oversize payload like a General Electric J79 jet engine, which powered both the North American A-5/RA-5 Vigilante attack/reconnaissance aircraft and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 fighter bomber populating flight decks at the time. The C-130 had both range and cargo-carrying ability so the idea of a Super COD was born.
Once the project went forward, the Test Center staff had to decide whether to have pilots with multi-engine experience learn to land on a carrier or to have test pilots with carrier landing experience learn to fly multi-engine aircraft. Carrier experience won out.
“Either I was in the right part of the line or the other pilots said, ‘Give this one to Flatley. It isn’t going to go anywhere,'” said then-lieutenant Flatley, the newly minted test pilot chosen to lead the project. “In flight test, you have to earn your spurs. I had just reported to the Carrier Suitability Branch at Pax River and this was my first project as a test pilot. It was a rather unique assignment.”
Lt. Cmdr. W. W. “Smokey” Stovall, the lead test pilot on another project at the time, volunteered to be copilot on the C-130 trials.
The trials aircraft, 9798, was in service at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, and was chosen at random. The aircraft was flown back to what was then known as the Lockheed-Georgia Company in Marietta on 8 October.
Only minor modifications were made to the aircraft: the wing refueling pods were removed, a precision airspeed indicator was installed in the cockpit, and the antiskid system was replaced with the type used on commercial 727s. The aircraft was also fitted with a smaller nose landing gear orifice, which allowed for slower metering of the hydraulic fluid and made for smoother touchdowns.
“The most critical guy on the crew was the flight engineer because he knew far more about the airplane than the two fighter pilots assigned to this short-term project ever would,” Flatley noted. “That sounds a little cavalier for a test pilot, but, at that point, we were not required to learn the aircraft, just to learn to fly it.”
Lockheed test pilot Ted Limmer monitored Flatley and Stovall as they made their first flight from Marietta to check out the modifications. Limmer then gave the Navy pilots their check ride on the way back to Pax River. “The aircraft is so beautiful to fly and so simple to operate and it handles so well,” Flatley recalled. “Checkout was a piece of cake, especially with Petty Officers Brennan and Sieve doing all the work and worrying.”
Flatley and Stovall paid a lot of attention to the ground handling characteristics of the C-130 and then focused on the slow-speed maneuvering characteristics of the aircraft in its landing configuration. The crew began practicing landings at Pax River almost immediately. Engineers from the Carrier Suitability Branch set up multiple cameras and came out to observe the first practices and take extensive measurements. “For most of the next fifty-five flight hours, all we did was go around the field practicing short field landings and takeoffs,” Flatley said.
High on the list of things to be accomplished during the practice landings was to determine the optimum carrier approach speed for the C-130. While the normal approach speed for a Hercules is 115 to 120 knots, a determination was made to fly the carrier approaches at five to six knots above stall speed for the planned landing gross weight.
A second landing parameter that concerned the pilots was the aircraft’s sink rate at touchdown. Flatley and Stovall were used to flying carrier-based fighters that have a sink rate of about fifteen to twenty feet per second, so they were apprehensive about the C-130’s design limit of eleven feet per second. Even though the test data collected during the field trials indicated that sink rate was not going to be a problem, the pilots would not be convinced until they actually made the test flights to the carrier.
One of the major challenges in the final stage of a carrier approach is mastering the so called rooster tail, the turbulent air that is the carrier equivalent of the ground effect encountered when an aircraft crosses the approach end of a runway. “If the rooster tail is not handled well, more often than not, your aircraft feels like it is being sucked into a hole right at the deck rounddown,” added Flatley. “So being able to fly the desired glidescope, right to touchdown, is critical.”
The crew found they could easily fly the required 3.5- to 4.0-degree glidescope on a standard approach. “It became evident very quickly that landing a C-130 on a carrier was not going to be a problem. Even the engineers stopping coming out to watch us practice,” Flatley recalled.
A side trip to the Naval Air Rework Facility in Norfolk, Virginia, was made so engineers there could figure out how to get the Hercules off the ship if, for some reason, it got stranded aboard the ship during the trials. It was determined that the most practical solution would be to run a steel I-beam through the crew door and punch a hole on the other side of the fuselage and run another I-beam through the paratroop doors in the back. Those two I beams would then be connected to a third I-beam suspended over the fuselage and a crane would be used to lift the aircraft off the deck if the carrier could make port conveniently.
“If we had broken down at sea, the deck hands would have lifted the plane up with the deck crane and tossed it overboard,” Brennan mused. “Hopefully, they would have let us get out first.”
To The Boat
On 30 October, the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) was steaming off the Florida coast near Jacksonville. One wag at Pax River had painted, “Look Ma, No Hook,” under the copilot windows of the KC-130 because there wasn’t one. An arresting hook, a normal piece of equipment for a carrier landing, wouldn’t have helped either because the Forrestal’s flight deck had been cleared—the arresting wires had been removed to save wear and tear on the tires of the Hercules. The deck was completely empty as the air wing’s aircraft were either flown ashore or parked on the hangar deck.
“It was a blustery, squally day with a forty-knot wind gusting to sixty knots and huge ocean swells. The deck was heaving twenty feet up and down,” Flatley recalls. “Here is where a carrier pilot with knowledge comes in handy. Every two and one-half minutes or so, no matter what the sea state, the ship will steady out. Because of the excessive wind and sea state, we did forty-two approaches to ship just to get nineteen touch-and-go landings.” Those touch-and-goes revealed that there were no sink rates in excess of five feet per second, a fact that amazed even the Lockheed engineers.
The Hercules crew first made touch-and-goes on the ship’s 682-foot-long angled deck and then went down the 1,017-foot-long axial deck, where, on the next trip, the actual landings would be made. The first flight lasted five and one-half hours, two of which were spent in the Forrestal’s landing pattern. Cameras placed all around the flight deck recorded the touch-and-goes from every angle.
“We had a skull session the next day with the flight test engineers back a Pax River, and all the data looked good,” Flatley notes. “It was then just a matter of rescheduling the ship.”
On 8 November, Flatley, Stovall, Brennan, Sieve, and Limmer approached the Forrestal underway off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A broad dotted white line painted down the middle of the axial deck greeted them on their first approach. The Forrestal’s skipper put the carrier into the wind and added ten knots, which gave the flight crew a forty- to fifty-knot headwind over the bow.
After making the three warm-up touch-and-go landings, Flatley was cleared for the first full stop landing. The first approach was made at seventy-nine knots indicated airspeed.
The Forrestal’s landing signal officer gave Flatley the traditional “cut” signal as the aircraft crossed the rounddown at ten to fifteen feet in the air. Flatley lifted the throttles over the gate and put the propellers into reverse pitch as he settled down on the deck. At the same time, he and Stovall stood on the aircraft’s brakes so that, when the aircraft touched down, the KC-130 was in full reverse with full braking applied. It stopped in 275 feet, actually short of where the number four arresting cable would have been lying.
“We stopped so short it kind of startled me,” said Brennan. “It was like landing on a normal runway, but that big metal island on the side of the ship just beyond the wingtip was a bit scary.” It was the first time he had ever been on an aircraft carrier.
“Normally on a carrier, sailors and tractors move aircraft,” Flatley says. “We simply backed up with reverse thrust to set up for takeoff. You should have seen the looks on the faces of the deck hands.”
In addition to testing the basic feasibility of landing a Hercules on an aircraft carrier, the project was also designed to make landings at increasingly heavier weights to determine how large a payload a C-130 might safely bring aboard. Because the aircraft was a tanker, simply adding additional fuel increased the gross weight of the aircraft.
After taking on more JP-4 to go to the next higher gross weight, the crew revved up the aircraft’s engines, set the flaps at seventy-five percent, and took off. There were only fifteen feet clearance between the KC-130’s wingtip and the island.
The only restriction placed on the crew during takeoff was not to rotate the aircraft until the wingtip passed the forward end of the ship’s island. “Otherwise we could have been looking down on the captain on his bridge when we took off,” Flatley adds.
Three more full stop landings were made the first day, followed by ten landings on 21 November and seven more the next day. Stovall made three of the landings on the last day. A total of twenty-nine touch-and-goes were made on the four trips to the carrier.
The KC-130 weighed 85,000 pounds on the first landing. Thereafter, landings were made in progression up to a gross weight of 121,000 pounds. At maximum weight, which set the record for the largest and heaviest aircraft landing on a US Navy aircraft carrier, Flatley and Stovall used only 745 feet for takeoff and 460 feet for landing. One landing at a weight of 109,000 pounds required 495 feet to stop and that was in a heavy squall. On the last takeoffs, the crew didn’t even back up — they simply took off from the point on the deck where the aircraft stopped.
The crew completed the carrier qualification tests around noon on 22 November. “We got back to Pax River and started writing the final report and collecting the statistical data. We wrote the recommended procedures so anyone else wanting to land on a carrier had the information available. We went about our business and were told not to talk about it,” noted Flatley. The project remained classified officially for a year, although word got out quickly to the flying community.
The feasibility of landing a C-130 with a useful payload on a carrier was clearly demonstrated, but in the end, it simply was not practical. “A carrier with no tactical aircraft on deck makes a skipper antsy,” Brennan noted. “The captain of the Forrestal gave us two hours — to the minute — each trip and then we had to go home.” The Grumman C-2 Greyhound, a more practical COD aircraft, entered fleet service in 1966.
The Rest Of The Story
Stovall was later awarded the Air Medal for his work on the project. He went on to command a carrier fighter unit during Vietnam and attained the rank of captain. He died of leukemia in 1973.
Brennan was also awarded the Air Medal. He went on to become a flight engineer on P-3 Orions, accumulating nearly 7,000 hours flight time. He retired in 1976 as a chief petty officer after twenty-two years in the Navy. Four hours after his retirement ceremony, he was on a plane to Iran to work as a Lockheed field service representative on the P-3F program. He later went back to working with C-130s, this time with Coast Guard HC-130Hs as a Lockheed field service representative at CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He retired in 1998 and passed away a short time later.
Sieve shipped out immediately after the program concluded to fly Lockheed WV-1s—a.k.a. Willie Victors—Warning Star airborne early warning aircraft in Argentia, Newfoundland. Flatley lobbied for years to recognize Sieve’s contribution to the carrier landing and Secretary of the Navy Gordon England approved the Air Medal for Sieve in the summer of 2004. It was presented by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Mullins in Sieve’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. A crew from VMGR-352 flew 9798 to the ceremony.
Flatley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a difficult award to earn anytime but especially in peacetime. He spent the rest of his Navy career in fighters. Even though he didn’t have a tail hook on the KC-130F, he counts his eighteen landings in a Hercules among his 1,608 traps, which puts him in the top ten of the Navy’s all-time carrier landing list. He retired as a rear admiral in 1987. He served as the chief executive officer of the Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, the state’s most popular tourist attraction, for seven years before retiring again. Between his twenty-one grandkids and his work charity work in Charleston, he stays active. “I stay busier than I can stand to be,” he noted.
After a thirty-eight-year career, the Forrestal was decommissioned 11 September 1993 and was stricken from the Navy Register the same day. In February 2014, she was towed from Philadelphia to Brownsville, Texas, for scrapping. The Navy sold the carrier to All Star Metals, a ship and oil rig recycler, for one cent.
KC-130F BuNo 149798 went on to a full career, receiving a service life extension upgrade and a new center wing box in the late 1970s. It spent most of its career with VMGR-352, first at MCAS El Toro, California, and later at Miramar after El Toro was closed and the Raiders, as the squadron calls itself, moved. In November 2001, 9798 was the first aircraft to land at Expeditionary Air Field Rhino during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It was used on a low-altitude night helicopter refueling mission and to insert elements of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s battalion landing team near the Pakistan border. A little over a year old during the carrier qualifications, 9798 was retired to what is now called the National Naval Aviation Museum forty-two years later and right at 26,220 flight hours.
Basically relegated to the status of a footnote to aviation history, the Hercules-on-a-carrier idea came back to the forefront in 2004. The CBS television series JAG featured an episode in which Cmdr. Harmon Rabb (David James Elliot) quit his position as a Navy lawyer to fly missions for the CIA. He rescues an agent and his family in a C-130 and then, after being attacked by Libyan MiGs, makes an emergency landing on the deck of the fictitious USS Seahawk. As the credits roll, real footage of Flatley’s landing in the KC-130 (which can be found here) is shown along with a brief summary of the feat.
At that same time, the joint Army-Navy-Marine Corps concept of Sea Basing, or pre-positioning supplies and equipment near potential areas of operation around the world, was being discussed. One idea involved a movable facility the size of a small island with a 3,000-foot flight deck. Lockheed Martin actually received a government contract to study the concept of C-130J operations from this floating runway. But, the Sea Basing concept was later shelved.
Hope you enjoyed this look back at the history of the C-130 and be sure and watch the video at the end of the article on Fat Albert. Have a good weekend, enjoy time with family and friends, and be sure to take some time to enjoy the world around you.
October 3, 2014
Note – For nearly thirty years, almost every airshow presented by the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, began with the team’s C-130 Hercules support aircraft making a fiery, smoky, noisy jet-assisted takeoff. That era came to an end on 14 November 2009 as the crew of Fat Albert, the affectionate nickname given to the team’s C-130, carried out the last-ever JATO blastoff.