Flying the Mighty Herc: Then & Now

For TACAMO sailors old enough to recall the C-130 days, many of us hold a special fondness for our long retired EC-130 G/Q platform. Whether you call her the Hercules, the Herc, the “Wayback Machine” (as TCVA Executive Director Mike Vos does) or perhaps the “Lockheed Hilton” as did the reel operators on our crew, she was a real workhorse who filled a critical role in the defense of our nation during the Cold War. Living in Minneapolis and often watching AFRES and ANG C-130s overflying my house, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go for one more ride in a C-130. Remarkably, I was given the opportunity to do just that recently and was able to reconnect with our reliable old mount.

I fly for Delta Airlines, and a few months ago my copilot T.J. O’Reilly and I got to talking about his prior experience flying the C-130 for the Air Force. He mentioned that he was currently flying for a Minneapolis based AFRES squadron, and was wondering if I might want to come along on their annual “Take Your Employer To Work” flight. Didn’t need to think twice about that offer! So off I went down into the basement to find the old flight suit, boots and gloves. When August 12th came around, I met T.J. at the Air Force base at the Minneapolis airport, and was soon aboard their H model C-130, call sign “Viking 61”.

The first thing that came back to me was - you guessed it - the smell. Herk smell. Not a bad or nasty smell. Just Herk smell. A combination of fuel, hydraulic oil, engine oil, airplane grease, and sweat. If you spent any amount of time in Herks back in the day, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Their aircraft was also remarkably clean and appeared to be very well maintained. I and 20 other lucky riders climbed into our seats in the cargo hold, and as the engines started all the familiar sounds came back. Soon we were airborne and off on our two hour low level track up north to the Apostle Islands and back. We spent the entire two hours at 500 feet and 250 knots, along with a second C-130 full of more riders. We never flew low level at VQ-4, and were always single ship. And so to be flying over houses, sailboats, barns, pickup trucks and cows at 500 feet was an unforgettable experience! Especially with the other plane right next to us bobbing and weaving all the way.

Halfway through, T.J. invited me up to the cockpit, and I spent a memorable and enjoyable half hour talking about flying the Herk, and their missions that took them all around the world. The cockpit looked and sounded just the way I remembered it: torque levers, condition levers, temperature datum switches, prop mechanical switches on the right sidewall, the nav table with the sextant port above, all the same. What was different was the tactical equipment installed to defeat missile threats and their stationkeeping equipment to fly formation in bad weather. After my cockpit visit, it was back to my seat in the back, whereupon the loadmasters opened the ramp and door inflight to afford an amazing low level view of Minnesota’s north shore.

All too soon it was time to land, and afterward I was able to hang out with several crews in their ready room and talk to them about their very robust mission tasking. It’s clear that the C-130 is still an extremely versatile and necessary part of our overseas deployment tasking, and every crew member that I spoke with had been deployed a number of times. They loved flying the Herk, but lamented the time spent away from their homes and families. Sound familiar? I guess some things never change. We all likely recall the relentless deployment schedule back then, and it’s more of the same today.

I left with a renewed sense of admiration and respect for our reservists. They work every day to protect our way of life, just as we did back in the day. And as for our beloved Hercules, it was a great to see her alive and kicking, especially after seeing the hulks of our TACAMO birds at the 2015 Tucson boneyard deployment. Lockheed Martin is building new C-130s to this day, making it the longest continually produced aircraft in world history. It was a pleasure to reunite with her, and I proudly wore my TACAMOPAC Crew 4 shirt under my zoom bag to carry the memory of all of our departed TACAMO shipmates airborne in a C-130 once again. It was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful morning. Now if I can just score another ride at next year’s Employer’s Day. Hmmm………..

Keep the faith, Bob Kruse

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