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Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Swimming with C-130s


Being aviation obsessive, I’m pretty fortunate to have the skies of Historic New Castle, Delaware, over my head. Moments ago, I photographed a KC-135 refueling an F-15, the action visible from my upper deck. This afternoon I can travel less than ten minutes see President Biden depart New Castle’s airport via the fleet of Marine helicopters with a V-22 Osprey or two thrown in to the mix for good measure. And being 40 miles or so up the road from Dover Air Force Base means it’s not unusual to see C-17s and C-5M Super Galaxies majestically cruising on by, often at low altitudes.

Most frequent performers at the Aerospace Perceptions Backyard Airshow? The Lockheed C-130s of the 166th Airlift Wing at New Castle Air National Guard Base. Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

Here at Aerospace Perceptions, though, there’s an even greater soft spot for the Lockheed C-130H Hercules. The 166th Airlift Wing and their beautiful prop aircraft are based at New Castle Air National Guard Base – just over a mile away from Aerospace Perceptions headquarters. To call the engine rumble of the C-130 a soundtrack to life around here is not an exaggeration, and to this day if I can I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to watch one of these big aircraft soar overhead, stars of the backyard airshow.

The C-130 is certainly one of the USAF’s “old reliables,” a tactical airlifter having flown thousands upon thousands of missions. Simply put, it’s an aircraft that can be counted on in critical situations.

One of the essential benefits of the C-130 is its very special ability to land in challenging environments. In fact, about the only landing target that is off-limits is water. But that may be just about to change.

A tropical setting potentially offers a new environment for C-130 operations, although Lockheed did pitch a C-130 with a hull-like fuselage years ago. Image: AFSOC

The Air Force Special Operations Command – led by Commander Gen. James Slife – has studied the possibility of adding amphibious capabilities to the AFSOC variation of the C-130, the MC-130. Basically, a special kit will be implemented in the field to allow take offs and landings on water. AFSOC anticipates proof of concept testing to begin as soon as next year.

“We're going through the wave tank testing right now,” Gen. Slife explained during a discussion on September 7 at the Air and Space Force Association’s Warfighters in Action event in Arlington, Virginia. “We started out with a number of digital designs. We ran through a series of testing to figure out, ‘Do we want to do a catamaran or a pontoon or a hull applique on the bottom of the aircraft?’ We went through all the iterations of that. And we settled on a design that provides the best trade-off of drag, weight and sea-state performance.”

A cutaway image reflects the 3-D virtual studies that will soon yield to physical proof of concept testing, perhaps as soon as 2023. Image: AFSOC

Gen. Slife envisions one particular example of a C-130 with amphibious capability supporting Naval special operations, landing SEALs close to an operational target then being able to extract them. Many other potential uses for the modified MC-130s are seen on the horizon, dovetailing with the air forces of other countries placing a renewed focus on water operations performed by cargo aircraft.

Perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future I’ll hear a C-130 landing at the nearby airport on my left, and a C-130 landing on the Delaware River a few blocks to my right – stereo!


To read more of Gen. Slife’s thoughts – and see him explain in a video how aircraft prefixes like the “C” in the C-130 should not restrict thinking about creative airplane applications – visit:

An in-depth look at the aquatic planning for the MC-130 and cargo aircraft operations on water: