UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


MC-130P Combat Shadow
HC-130P/N Combat Shadow

The MC-130P Combat Shadow flies clandestine or low visibility, low-level missions into politically sensitive or hostile territory to provide air refueling for special operations helicopters. The MC-130P primarily flies its single- or multi-ship missions at night to reduce detection and intercept by airborne threats. Secondary mission capabilities include airdrop of small special operations teams, small bundles, and zodiac and combat rubber raiding craft; as well as night-vision goggle takeoffs and landings, tactical airborne radar approaches and in-flight refueling as a receiver.

MC-130P Combat Shadows and MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft have similar missions, but the Combat Talon I's have more instruments designed for covert operations. Both aircraft fly infiltration/exfiltration missions, the airdrop or land personnel and equipment in hostile territory. They also air refuel special operations helicopters and usually fly missions at night with aircrews 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.

The MC-130P Combat Shadow can fly in the day against a reduced threat, however, crews normally fly night, low-level, air refueling and formation operations using night-vision goggles. 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.

MC-130P's were previously designated HC-130N/P. However, the "H" designation is a rescue and recovery mission code and not representative of the aircraft's special operations role. In February 1996, AFSOC's tanker fleet was redesignated MC-130P's, aligning the Combat Shadow with other M-series special operations mission aircraft.

The HC/MC-130P was similar to the HC-130N, but with modified more specifically for special operations missions, which included the addition of the Fulton Surface-To-Air Recovery System (STAR). The STAR system, fitted to a range of other special operations aircraft, was eventually removed from the aircraft. Some HC/MC-130P were also modified as dual tanker/transport with a night vision goggle compatible head up display, an infrared missile approach warning system, and forward looking infrared optics. The aircraft could drop parachutists freefall and static line (only from doors at a rate of 10 every 5 seconds). The minumum safe height was 500 feet.

Originally ordered in 1963 and first flown in 1964, HC-130 type aircraft served in many roles and missions. The aircraft was initially modified to conduct search and rescue missions, provide a command and control platform, refuel helicopters and carry supplemental fuel for extending range or air refueling. During the conflict in Vietnam, the aircraft were used to refuel HH-3E Jolly Green Giant and HH-53B/C Super Jolly Green Giant helicopters. Also, acting as an airborne command post, the aircraft were used to direct rescue efforts.

In 1986, the active-force HC-130P/N aircraft changed to a special operations mission. These aircraft provided critical air refueling to Army and Air Force helicopters during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989. They deployed to Saudi Arabia and Turkey in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, providing air refueling for special operations forces helicopters over friendly and hostile territory, as well as psychological operations and leaflet drops.

After Desert Storm, the aircraft were involved in Operations Northern and Southern Watch, supporting efforts to keep Iraqi aircraft out of the no-fly zones. Although HC-130P/N's left Southern Watch in 1993, they returned periodically to relieve Air Combat Command rescue forces. The aircraft also took part in Operation Deny Flight in Yugoslavia in 1993, and Operations Restore Democracy and Uphold Democracy in Haiti in 1994.

As part of Commando Vision, which started in 1994, the 919th Special Operations Wing at Duke Field, Florida, retired its AC-130A gunships and gained MC-130P Combat Shadows, flown by the newly stood-up 5th Special Operations Squadron, and MC-130E Combat Talons, flown by the 711th Special Operations Squadron.

The MC-130P was involved in Operations Deliberate Force and Joint Endeavor in Bosnia since 1995. Additionally, the aircraft, redesignated MC-130P in February 1996, took part in Operation Assured Response in 1996, providing air refueling for the MH-53H/Js shuttling evacuees between Liberia and the rear staging area.

In March 1997, an MC-130P was diverted from Italy to provide combat search and rescue during the evacuation of non-combatant Americans from Albania. Also in 1997, an MC-130P provided command and control and refueling support during Operation Guardian Retrieval, the evacuation of Americans from Zaire. In July 1997, the aircraft provided aerial refueling for MH-53J's when US forces prepared for possible evacuations of noncombatants from Cambodia. The aircraft also deployed as part of Operation High Flight, the search to locate an American C-141 involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft off the coast of Angola in September 1997.

During Operation Allied Force, an MC-130P Combat Shadow participated in a combat search and rescue mission for the pilot of a downed F-117A Stealth Fighter. For their efforts, the 67st Special Operations Squadron crew was named winner of the 1999 Brigadier General Ross G. Hoyt Award. This award was presented annually by Air Mobility Command to the most outstanding air refueling aircrew. The Combat Shadow crew took off enroute to Bosnia-Herzegovina for a rendezvous with 3 rescue helicopters. Two were MH-53J Pave Lows, one from the 21st Special Operations Squadron and the other from the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The third helicopter was an MH-60G Pave Hawk from the 55th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field.

The rescue plan called for the helicopters to refuel immediately before crossing the Serbian border to allow them to operate with full fuel tanks. Until needed, the MC-130P remained out of sight. After more than 90 minutes of orbiting close to the border, the call came from the helicopter crews for the desperately needed fuel that would enable them to continue the rescue mission. The refueling took place at the unusually low altitude of 700 feet within 3 miles of the Serbian border. Afterward, they waited for the second MC-130P to replace them before departing for badly needed fuel. Sustaining fuel was provided by rendezvous with a KC-135, a first for an MC-130P during a combat mission. The crew then flew to Tuzla Air Base in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they picked up the downed pilot and transported him to Aviano Air Base.

Special operations forces improvements were made to the MC-130P, with modifications completed in FY00 featuring improved navigation, communications, threat detection and countermeasures systems. The fully modified Combat Shadow had a fully integrated inertial navigation and global positioning system, and night-vision goggle-compatible interior and exterior lighting. It also had a forward-looking infrared radar, missile and radar warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers and night-vision goggle compatible heads-up display. In addition, it had satellite and data burst communications, as well as in-flight refueling capability as a receiver.

In March 2000, Air Force MC-130P aircraft crew members used their flying time over Mozambique to take digital photos of flooded areas to help relief teams determine where supplies are needed. What started with the USArmy Corps of Engineers asking the crews to take pictures of flood damage to a dam turned into daily photography requests from the Atlas Response Joint Task Force that coordinates the U.S. military relief operation.

A crew from the 17th Special Operations Squadron began the final flight of MC-130P Combat Shadow, tail 69-5825, 18 July 2013 from Kadena Air Base to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. "After having executed a wide variety of missions in the aircraft over the last 13 years, I have mixed emotions seeing her headed to retirement" said Lt. Col. Daniel Kobs, 17th Special Operations Squadron, operations officer. "While it is sad to see an aircraft that has accomplished so much leave operational service, it marks the beginning of an important AFSOC transformation in the Pacific as we usher in a new era of SOF airmen and capabilities."

With nearly 19,000 flying hours, tail 69-5825 has a long history in the European and Pacific theaters conducting both special operations and rescue missions. The aircraft is most noted for its participation in the evacuation after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo near Clarke Air Base, Philippines, in June 1991. At that time, this aircraft was designated as an HC-130N. The HC-130N "King" was the only dedicated fixed-wing personnel recovery platform in the Air Force inventory.

In addition to its history, tail 69-5825 has a solid reputation among not only those who flew the aircraft but also those who maintained it. Senior Airman Robert Brown and Tech. Sgt. Anthony Rutt, 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron 69-5825 designated crew chiefs, accompanied the aircraft to the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center, often called "the boneyard."

"I've been with the aircraft since it arrived in Kadena four years ago. It's hard to watch it go," Brown said. "You get attached to these aircraft. You have pride in your own plane and the work you have put into it." The retirement of tail 69-5825 begins the 353rd Special Operations Group's transition period for upgrading the MC-130 fleet.

The final two MC-130P Combat Shadows in the Air Force landed for the last time at Hulburt Field, FL, in front of more than 400 people, during an MC-130P heritage flight held on May 15, 2015. Aircrafts 66-0217 and 69-5819 were built in 1969 and received their P designation in 1996. They were the last two MC-130Ps in the Air Force to be retired. Their last flight was slated to take place on June 1, 2015 to the to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 23-02-2016 18:13:52 ZULU