The HC-130E is an C-130E model converted for search-and-rescue duty. The C-130 has been one of the USAFs primary transports for over 40 years. Over time many versions of the C-130 have been derived, including the HC-130E, of which six were produced in 1964.
During the Vietnam War specially-equipped HC-130E Skyhook aircraft with the Fulton Recovery System installed were deployed to Southeast Asia in 1966. With the Fulton Surface to Air Recovery System, nicknamed "skyhook," the Combat Talon can snatch up to 500 pounds of cargo or two personnel from the ground. This is accomplished with a helium-filled balloon, associated life lines, harnesses, and special aircraft equipment. A typical mission might involve the recovery of a downed pilot in an area inaccessible to conventional aircraft or helicopters.
Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., a talented inventor, may have been a collateral descendant of the steamboat inventor, but he never bothered to check the genealogical connection. Moreover, Edison had been a family name long before it became associated with the famous inventor. Nonetheless, with Fulton and Edison as part of his name, he seemed destined for a career as an inventor.
By 1958, the Fulton aerial retrieval system, or Skyhook, had taken its final shape. A package that easily could be dropped from an aircraft contained the necessary ground equipment for a pickup. It featured a harness, for cargo or person, that was attached to a 500-foot, high-strength, braided nylon line. A portable helium bottle inflated a dirigible-shaped balloon, raising the line to its full height.
The pickup aircraft sported two tubular steel "horns" protruding from its nose, 30 feet long and spread at a 70-degree angle. The aircraft would fly into the line, aiming at a bright mylar marker placed at the 425-foot level. As the line was caught between the forks on the nose of the aircraft, the balloon was released at the same time the spring-loaded trigger mechanism (sky anchor) secured the line to the aircraft. As the line streamlined under the fuselage, it was snared by the pickup crew, using a J-hook. It was then attached to a powered winch and pulled on board.
Despite the apparent advantages offered by the visually impressive Fulton Skyhook Recovery System, its potential was never once exploited in a combat situation in the decades the equipment remained on the Blackbirds. In late 1996, the Air Force Special Operations Command removed the Fulton systems from its MC-130E Combat Talon fleet, placing the Talon's once-famous "whiskers" in mothballs should Fulton's remarkable device ever be required.
The Air Force Reserve Command's 939th Rescue Wing at Portland IAP, OR operated the HH-60G, HC-130E, and HC-130. The V-22 Osprey is designed to replace the Marine Corps CH-46E and CH-53D, as well as the Air Force Special Operations Command TH-53A, MH-53J, MH-47D, MH-60G, MC-130E, HC-130 and HC-130E. By 1996 all the HC-130E had either been destroyed in service or await scrapping at the AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ.
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