MC-130E Combat Talon I
C-130E(C)/(I)/(S)/(Y) Combat Talon
The US Air Force's last 4 MC-130E Combat Talon I's flew a final mission from their home at Duke Field, Florida on 15 April 2013. The MC-130E would be officially retired in a ceremony at Duke Field on 25 April 2013 and the aircraft would then be flown to the "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.
The MC-130E Combat Talon's primary mission is infiltration and exfiltration of people and equipment in or out of a combat zone. Secondary missions include aerial helicopter refueling and psychological operations. The MC-130E has a deep penetrating helicopter refueling role during special operations missions.
The MC-130E aircraft feature terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radars capable of operations as low as 250 feet in adverse weather conditions. Structural changes to a basic C-130 include the addition of an in-flight refueling receptacle, and strengthening of the tail to allow high speed/low-signature airdrop. The navigation suite include dual ring-laser gyros, mission computers and integrated global positioning system. The aircraft can locate, and either land or airdrop on small, unmarked zones with pinpoint accuracy day or night.
An extensive electronic warfare suite enables the aircrew to detect and avoid potential threats. If engaged, the system will protect the aircraft from both radar and infrared-guided threats. The MC-130E is equipped with aerial refueling pods to provide in-flight refueling of special operations forces and combat search and rescue helicopters.
The primary difference between the MC-130E and MC-130H aircraft involves the degree of integration of the mission computers and avionics suite. The MC-130E Combat Talon I was conceived originally and developed during the 1960s, and although extensively upgraded in the 1980-90s it still featured analog instrumentation and did not fully integrate the sensors and communications suites as of 2007. The successor to the MC-130E, the MC-130H Combat Talon II, designed in the 1980s, featured an integrated glass flight deck, which improved crew coordination and reduced the crew complement by 2.
MC-130P Combat Shadows and MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft also had similar missions, but the Combat Talon I has more instruments designed for covert operations. Both aircraft are designed to deliver and pick up people and equipment in hostile territory. They also air refuel special operations helicopters and usually fly missions at night with air crews using night-vision goggles. The Combat Talon I, however, has an electronic countermeasures suite and terrain-following radar that enables it to fly extremely low, counter enemy radar and penetrate deep into hostile territory.
Nine of the MC-130E's were equipped with Fulton surface-to-air recovery system (STARS), a safe, rapid method of recovering personnel or equipment from either land or water. It involved use of a large, helium-filled balloon used to raise a 450 foot (136.5 meters) nylon lift line. The MC-130E would then fly towards the lift line at 150 miles per hour (240 kilometers per hour), snag it with scissors-like arms located on the aircraft nose and the person or equipment would be lifted off, experiencing less shock than that caused by a parachute opening. Aircrew members would then use a hydraulic winch to pull the person or equipment aboard through the open rear cargo door. By 1996, the 8th Special Operations Squadron was the only unit in the world that maintained crew proficiency in the use of the Fulton recovery system, and had been prepared to launch if called upon since the late 1960's. A fatal accident in 1982, the only fatality in 17 years of live pick-ups, damaged the credibility of the personnel pick-up system within the special operations community. That, along with the increased availability of long-range air-refuelable MH-53J Pave Low and MH-47E Chinook helicopters, and tightening budgets, caused Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) to deactivate the capability in September 1996.
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