Lockheed MC-130 Special Operations

Col. Sean Farrell, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, boards an MC-130J Commando II at Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Ga., Dec. 11, 2015. The MC-130J will undergo modifications to become an AC-130J Ghostrider, which will provide the 1 SOW with close air support and air interdiction capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy)

The Lockheed MC-130 is the basic designation for a family of special mission aircraft operated by the United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), a wing of the Air Education and Training Command, and an AFSOC-gained wing of the Air Force Reserve Command. Based on the C-130 Hercules transport, their mission is the infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces, and the air refueling of (primarily) special operations helicopter and tilt-rotor aircraft.

Members of the family include the MC-130E Combat Talon IMC-130H Combat Talon IIMC-130W Combat/Dragon SpearMC-130P Combat Shadow, and MC-130J Commando II. A possible MC-130 variant, designated the XFC-130H, did not proceed beyond the development stage, but one of its aircraft became the YMC-130H test bed aircraft for the Combat Talon II. The Air Force is requesting acquisition of at least 37 new production MC-130J aircraft to replace the Combat Talon Is and Combat Shadows, with the first ten received in 2011. A total of 69 MC-130J aircraft are planned, which will eventually replace all other MC-130 variants.

The MC-130E was the first Combat Talon and was developed to support clandestine special operations missions during the Vietnam War. Eighteen were created by modifying C-130E transports, and four lost through attrition, but the remainder continue in service more than four decades after their initial modification. An updated Combat Talon II was developed in the 1980s from the C-130H variant of the Hercules and went into service in the 1990s. Four of its 24 original aircraft have been lost in operations. The Combat Spear was implemented in 2006 as a cost effective program to supplement the Combat Talon II force, based on the same airframe. The Combat Shadow is a redesignation of several HC-130s. Initially developed during the Vietnam War for search and rescue operations, 28 were diverted to AFSOC in the 1980s to provide it with organic air refueling assets.

Role STOL Special operations military transport aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed Corporation
First flight MC-130J: April 2011
Introduction MC-130E: 1966
MC-130P: 1986
MC-130H: 1991
MC-130W: 2006
MC-130J: 2012
Retired April 25, 2013
Status Retired
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built MC-130E: 18
MC-130H: 24
MC-130P: 28
MC-130W: 12
MC-130J: 4
Unit cost MC-130E $75 million
MC-130H $155 million
MC-130W $60 million
Developed from C-130 Hercules
C-130J Super Hercules

General characteristics

  • Crew: 7
  • Capacity: 77 troops, 52 paratroopers or 57 litter patients
  • Length: 99 feet, 9 inches (30.4 meters)
  • Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches (40.4 meters)
  • Height: 38 feet, 6 inches (11.7 meters)
  • Empty weight: 72,892 pounds (32, 801 kilogram)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 155,000 pounds (69,750 kilogram)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Allison T56-A-15 turboprop, 4,910 shaft horsepower (3,660 kW) each


  • Cruise speed: 300 mi/hr (482 km/h)
  • Range: 2,700 nautical miles (4,344 kilometers)
  • Service ceiling: 33,000 feet (10,000 meters)


  • APQ-170 TF/TA navigational radar
  • ARN-151 GPS link
  • APN-232 radar altimeter
  • LN-83 Inertial Navigation Unit
  • AAQ-15 Forward Looking Infrared imaging system
  • ARC-187 SatCom/data burst radio
  • ALQ-172 Countermeasures System (repeater-jammer)
  • ALQ-196 Countermeasures System
  • AAR-44 IRWR (missile warning receiver)


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