The HC-130P/N is an extended-range, combat search and rescue version of the C-130 Hercules transport. Its mission is to extend the range of combat search and rescue helicopters by providing air refueling. Secondary mission capabilities include performing tactical airdrops of pararescue specialist teams, small bundles, zodiac watercraft, or four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicles, providing direct assistance to a survivor in advance of the arrival of a recovery vehicle. Other capabilities are extended visual and electronic searches over land or water, tactical airborne radar approaches and unimproved airfield operations. A team of three pararescue specialists, trained in emergency trauma medicine, harsh environment survival and assisted evasion techniques, are part of the basic mission crew complement.
The HC-130P King deploys worldwide to provide combat search and rescue coverage for US and allied forces. Combat search and rescue missions include flying low-level, preferably at night aided with night vision goggles, to an objective area where aerial refueling of a rescue helicopter is performed or pararescuemen are deployed. The secondary mission of the HC-130P is peacetime search and rescue. HC-130P aircraft and crews are uniquely trained and equipped for search and rescue in all types of terrain including artic, mountain, and maritime. Peacetime search and rescue missions may include searching for downed or missing aircraft, sinking or missing water vessels, or missing persons. The HC-130P can deploy parascuemen to a survivor, escort helicopter to a survivor, or airdrop survival equipment to a survivor.
The HC-130P/N is the only dedicated fixed-wing combat search and rescue platform in the Air Force inventory. The 71st Rescue Squadron in Air Combat Command, the 102nd RQS, 129th RQS and 210th RQS in the Air National Guard, and the 39th RQS and 303rd RQS in the Air Force Reserve Command operate the aircraft.
First flown in 1964, the aircraft has served many roles and missions. The aircraft was initially modified to conduct search and rescue missions, provide a command and control platform, in-flight-refuel helicopters and carry supplemental fuel for extending range or air refueling. HC-130s have been in Air Combat Command since 1992. Previously, they were assigned to the Air Rescue Service as part of Military Airlift Command. They have been deployed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and Italy since 1993 in support of operations Southern and Northern Watch and Allied Force. HC-130s also support continuous alert commitments in Alaska, Japan and Iceland, and provide rescue coverage for space shuttle operations in Florida.
Combat Air Forces HC-130 aircraft are undergoing extensive modifications. When modifications are complete in fiscal 2000, all aircraft will feature improved navigation, communications, threat detection and countermeasures systems. Ongoing modifications for the HC-130 include an integrated global positioning system navigation package, radar and missile warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers, airborne integrated satellite communications radios and cockpit armor. Selected aircraft are in the process of being equipped with night vision goggle-compatible interior and exterior lighting, a personnel locator system compatible with aircrew survival radios, an improved digital low-power color radar and forward-looking infrared systems.
The HC-130 can fly in the day against a reduced threat; however, crews normally fly night, low-level, air refueling and airdrop operations using night vision goggles (NVG). It can fly low-level NVG tactical flight profiles to avoid detection. To enhance the probability of mission success and survivability near populated areas, crews employ tactics that include incorporating no external lighting or communications, and avoiding radar and weapons detection.
In addition, Air Combat Command is exploring the potential acquisition of the HC-130J model. HC-130 avionics are slated for complete update through Air Mobility Command's Aviation Modernization Program.
On 24 April 1997 the Air Force released the aircraft accident investigation report on an Air Force Reserve HC-130P that crashed off the coast of California on 22 November 1996. Nine crewmembers and one passenger were killed and one crewmember was injured in the crash. The HC-130P and crew were en route to North Island Naval Air Station, Calif., from Portland International Airport on a routine over-water navigation training mission at the time of the accident. The crew and airplane were assigned to the 939th Rescue Wing (Air Force Reserve) at Portland International Airport, Ore. In the opinion of the accident investigator, the airplane's engines ceased to operate due to lack of fuel flow. There was insufficient evidence to determine why the fuel ceased to flow to the engines. Portions of the aircraft's wreckage, including the cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder, and one engine were recovered from the ocean floor at a depth of more than 5,100 feet by members of the U.S. Navy's Deep Submergence Unit.
In September 1997, then Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Sheila Widnall, directed "...a comprehensive review of flight safety issues associated with the C-130, including specifically the accident involving the HC-130P from the 939th Rescue Wing on 22 November 1996 and other incidents. The purpose of this review is to consider all the facts and theories of causation specific to the HC-130P accident and other incidents and to ensure that all appropriate steps are being taken to enhance the flight safety of the C-130 fleet..."
King 56, the 939th Rescue Wing's HC-130P which crashed 22 November 1996, crashed because its engines sequentially flamed out as a result of fuel starvation. This condition most likely occurred because the main tank fuel pump switches were in the "OFF" position when the right-hand fuselage tank, which was providing fuel to all four engines, emptied. With this tank empty, pressurized cabin air was then allowed, via open fuel valves, to enter the fuel supply manifolds for the engines. Flight testing on an HC-130 aircraft similar to King 56 repeatedly demonstrated that engines sequentially flame out when a fuselage tank was run empty with the main tank fuel pumps in the "OFF" position. With the main tank fuel pumps "ON," there is a smooth transition from fuselage tank fuel to main tank fuel. If either the main tank pumps had been turned "ON," or the crossfeed valves closed prior to the last engine flaming out, this aircraft could have been successfully recovered.
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