The Air Force wants to transform the C-130 into a floating commando wagon


The Air Force C-130 has done just about everything a transport aircraft can do in its 67-year career. It served as a troop transport, combat helicopter, search and rescue aircraft, aerial gas station, aerial firefighter, hurricane chaser and aid delivery machine. But one thing he didn’t do? Land on water, which covers nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface.

But that may soon change if the Air Force Special Operations Command succeeds. The command is working with private companies and the Air Force Research Laboratory to modify its MC-130J Commando II transports so that the turboprop aircraft can land on water as well as on land. In other words: C-130s, prepare to become ducks.

The effort, called the MC-130J Commando II Amphibious Capability (MAC, although “quack” is perhaps a better fit), aims to give AFSOC more options for bringing operations teams in and out. special combat, and to land where airstrips might not exist.

The 9th Cannon AFB SOS displayed a 9-ship flight formation of the MC-130J aircraft for their 75th anniversary, April 2, 2019 (Air Force Photo / Senior Airman Marcel Williams)

“Maritime operations offer almost unlimited water landing zones providing significant flexibility for the joint force,” said Lt. Col. Josh Trantham, deputy division chief of science, systems, technology and the innovation of AFSOC, in an air force. Press release Tuesday.

The MC-130J is already designed to bring special operations troops in and out of enemy territory. The Commando II was built to be lighter, have a longer range and operate with fewer crew members than its predecessors, according to air force. It may soon get a little heavier, as the Air Force has said it wants to develop “a modification of a removable amphibious float”. If the modification looks like concept art the Air Force released earlier this year this float would be mounted under the fuselage, like the kind you see on many others seaplanes.

The Air Force wants to move quickly on this. According to the statement, she hopes to achieve “a demonstration of operational capability” in just 17 months. To produce one so quickly, the service is testing a digital version of the aircraft in a simulator called the Digital Proving Ground, which is just as good as the real thing up to some point in the development process, according to the Air Force. .

The Air Force wants to transform the C-130 into a floating commando wagon
Air Force concept art of an MC-130J Commando II transport aircraft equipped with floats under the fuselage (Air Force illustration)

“Being able to experiment with existing technology to assess design tradeoffs and test a new system before bending metal is a game-changer,” said Major Kristen Cepak, head of AFSOC’s technology transition arm.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time someone has tried to turn the C-130 into a duck. Before becoming Lockheed Martin, aerospace developer Lockheed envisioned an amphibious C-130 Hercules with a boat-shaped hull in the 1960s, The War Zone reported. For clarity: an airplane with a boat-like hull is called a flying boat, while an airplane with a non-boat-like fuselage and floats attached to the fuselage is called a seaplane. Both fall under the seaplane label.

Although the Air Force did not bite into the original idea of ​​Lockheed’s seaplane, the Navy conducted studies with a radio controlled model. Lockheed Martin also pitched the idea of ​​a C-130J variant fitted with floats in the late 1990s, The War Zone said, but it didn’t catch on either.

The Air Force wants to transform the C-130 into a floating commando wagon
A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) US-2 floatplane hovers over the water in search of a missing person during a simulated search and rescue exercise at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 8 2013. JMSDF conducted the search and rescue scenario to mark the US-1A’s first flight of the year. (U.S. Marine Corps photo / Lance Cpl. Todd F. Michalek)

If AFSOC wants the MAC to land on both land and water, it may need to include wheels in the floats, The War Zone wrote. While the floats would add weight and drag, the tactical advantages could be immense. Over the past few years, the Air Force has struggled to figure out how to operate without the large bases it has become accustomed to around the world. In a major war with another technologically advanced country like China, these bases would present juicy targets, and planes like the MC-130J might have to operate in distant theaters with no operational airstrip nearby. It would be especially dangerous in the middle of the ocean, but not when you have floats on your plane.

If the MAC is successful, the Air Force could expand the use of floats beyond the special operations community and into its other C-130 fleets, Trantham explained.

“Expanding the operational use of an amphibious aircraft alongside other innovative tools will pose even more complex dilemmas in future battlespaces for our strategic competitors,” he said.

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