Jan Paul Bildzukewicz Post on TCVA Facebook lead to an interesting conversation. Below are the responses and the finally of Herc vs Merc by Vern Lochausen
Herc or Merc: A Facebook Discussion
Jan Paul Bildzukewicz Post on TCVA Facebook lead to an interesting conversation. He started with describing a question his daughter, a Naval Aviator (H-60 Pilot and current Instructor), just asked him, via text message, which he preferred. Jan was a Reel Operator from 1985 until 1998, having served tours in VQ-3, VQ-4 and NAMTRAGRUDET, with approximately 5000 flight hours divided between both platforms. His answer was:
"The E-6 was comfortable, but I hated it. It seemed too much like we were suddenly in the Air Force, although admittedly the E-6 seemed much more appropriate for the seriousness and sophistication of our mission. The E-6 was modern and respectable but I never felt comfortable with all the comfort, if you can understand that. The C-130 was rugged, famous for its history and diversity of configurations. I loved getting off the plane with stains on my flight suit, and stinking like hydraulic fluid and engine bleed air. The C-130, affectionately called both Hercules and Sky Pig, was a little peculiar, but had great character. Tough, enduring, and yet, fun... I'd have to say that the C-130 suited me best.”
Nearly 20 others, mostly folks who had no flown the Merc, agreed with one or two exceptions that they preferred the Herc.
Most of their reasons were about the character and ruggedness of the Herc.
A standout reply that describes why most loved the Herc best came from Wes Henrie who said “There is great "romanticism" when TACAMO vets from the Herc era look back. I bet most share your opinion but I don't. The TACAMO Hercs were a nightmare to maintain, especially for the airframers and mechs. I recall the tremendous relief in maintenance as soon as the first Gecko (Merc) hit the flight line at Barbers. There were a few hiccups out of the gate; but once we settled in, it was night and day. About 10 years ago, I heard that more than half of the original E-6 engines were still on the wing. With the Hercs, we were lucky if one engine lasted a year. Think about that.” Jan Paul Bildzukewicz didn’t mind the label Wes put on him, saying “I don't know, call me a hopeless romantic!”
Today there are engines well past 25,000 hours and they are being removed and reconditioned before failures occur.
William F. Crouch, who flew both aircraft as a Flight Engineer preferred the Herc. Describing the Hercs back in the 90s as “ well past their prime, Bill sided with those who said the Merc was far easier to maintain, talked about the gains and losses associated with the Merc but in the end concluded “Yes the E-6 was like flying in a Caddy while the C-130 was like a jeep, but I'd vote for the C-130!”
Jay Jay Caruso attributed the Herc preference to a combination of things, saying “Those were the good old (Herc) days with lots of great memories and hard work.”
Jim Perry simply said “EC-130 fur sure - it had character.”
Terry Frank agreed saying “Ditto. My vote goes to the Herc over the Merc.”
John Altenburg flew both aircraft and echoed the romance part saying “There was a great romance with those of us that had flight time on the C-130. There was also a great sense of mission accomplishment with the C-130 that just wasn't there with the E-6. I think that we all remember our first love with great fondness. But that damn E-6 sure was a nice ride. ”
Rayburn Brooks rationale, echoed by others, in favor of the Herc was “because the E-6 never seemed to be a 'real' Navy aircraft even though the mission is the same with better equipment.”
Steve Jerrim also flew both aircraft and he was among the few voting for the Merc. “It's a difficult choice for me...the 130 has my heart, but the E-6 is my Christy Brinkley...my uptown girl.”
It was an AWESOME exchange of experience and opinions over several days. In the end, the Hercs win decisively. It must be that first love, that pride in making it work despite the difficult challenges, and Sailors’ work ethic that ‘it’ just shouldn’t be handed to you, we are NOT the Air Force. Most of my time is in the Herc but I was lucky to be the first Merc Skipper and flew with some awesome fellow former Herc folks in bringing the Merc on and with some newbees thinking of new ways to do the mission with the Merc.
Comparing the Two
First arriving in 1989, the E-6 quickly changed the game for VQ-3. For the EC-130Q Hercules operations which covered most of the Cold War era until 1991, a crew flying across the Atlantic or Pacific had to carefully plan their fuel load and route of flight to ensure they could reach their destination while still completing the orbit maneuver. Each mission was made more challenging by the Herc’s service ceiling being no higher than most of the severe weather enroute, turbulence, icing, and strong winds as well as its range being limited to about 2,700 nautical miles. Too much icing, too much headwind, or too much maneuvering around thunderstorms, put the ability to orbit and the destination at risk because of the limited fuel reserves. Further complications resulted from the then lack of long range navigation systems and mission as well as long range safety of flight communications. The challenges then were weather, fuel, navigation and communications. Further, while pressurized, the Herc had hot spots and cold spots and plenty of vibrations and noise levels that meant ICS was about the only way to communicate.
The E-6 changed all of that. It brought the ability to fly from Hawaii to the West Coast and back again on a tank of fuel. It was also air refuelable. It flew above the bad weather and brought navigation and communications systems that ensured a crew knew their position with confidence always and were in continuous touch with Air Traffic Control. Crew comforts included a full galley, 8 isolated crew rest bunks, sound proofing at airline standards, and an airline head. The Merc re-opened the entire Pacific for basing.
The TACAMO IV mission avionics suite, with all the TIP features and some additional capabilities were transplanted into the E-6A. Pilots learned how to fly formation in heavy jets in order to complete aerial refueling. They also proved that the big jet could orbit and get the VLF range that was required. Taking off with less than full power on all engines and not the same power setting for all engines was something unheard of in the Herc. So much thrust combined with a long swept wing made this a Merc reality. The Merc carried more fuel than a fully loaded Herc weighed! Navigators learned how to run air intercepts with the USAF tankers and Flight Engineers got increased responsibility for power settings and the entire flight deck crew was more knowledgeable and better coordinated in flying the big jet. The Merc’s impact for VQ-4 was just a powerful, opening bases and eliminating the same previous fuel, altitude, navigation, and weather limitations.
The Mercs all have a many hours on them as the Hercs did at the end of their service. They show their age. The era of easy to maintain is likely at its end. There is talk among leaders of the need for a new aircraft. There are so many parallels to back then and now and those help the current leadership understand their options for the future.
Don’t Try This In Your Merc! As we look over how TACAMO has changed over the decades, here are some interesting differences. In the early days with roll on/roll off comm vans, the Hercs carried all cargo at times. More than one small car and several small boats have been moved on a TACAMO Herc. Even after TACAMO III came along untold furniture, grandfather clocks, papa-san chairs, fresh fruits and flowers, English butter and adult beverages from all over the world were hauled. Crews spent weeks on the road, with short alert periods spread out during a trip, so they made 4 or 5 good ‘shopping’ and liberty stops. One TACAMO Herc in the late 80’s made a trip to NAS Whiting Field where pilots are trained to help recruit the best for TACAMO. At 6,000 feet long, Whiting is a place, like many other bases, that the E-6 just cannot go. As an airliner-derivative, the E-6 has a pressurized ‘lower lobe’ compartment underneath the main deck. Here reside a good bit of avionics and storage compartments for luggage, spares, and not much else. Crews still find a way to carry home the goodies they find on deployment. Merc crews don’t see many deployment stops and they spend days on alert. They experience the pressures of Continuous Airborne Operations only rarely in exercise periods. When 9/11 happened, they were airborne in an exercise scenario and they performed in that real attack on America scenario with distinction. Today’s TACAMO crew has different pressures and more complex systems to work with, in addition to having joint crews when flying the ABNCP mission. They are still inventing ways to more effectively operate the systems they are given and working with developers to make them even better. This hasn’t changed from the beginning. TACAMO - Can Do!
In the past I recall a patch that featured a Herc likeness and boldly stated “Someone Over 30 you can Trust”. The Merc is almost there, almost 30. She’s beautiful and has character and comforts but a Herc will always be a Herc. As Barb Righter said in the exchange on Facebook about the Herc “It surely has my heart.”