Besides Being Great at Almost Everything, the C-130 Hercules Is a Pretty Decent Bomber

News flash, the C-130 Hercules and its variants and descendants can do just about anything. Obnoxious quips aside, there's seemingly no limit to what you can shove into the rear cargo bay of one of America's longest-serving transport airframe. As it turns out, it occasionally even takes on a second job as a strategic bomber.
C-130 Dropping Bombs 29 photos
Photo: Department of Defense
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The story of how the Lockheed-Martin C-130 was gifted one of history's most devastating conventional bombs is one of cunning military strategy and maybe just a tinge of morbid curiosity. What were the limits of this seemingly limitless wonder plane? As it turned out, Air Force top brass was not overstating the C-130's abilities.

You see, the U.S. military doesn't have to use the nuclear option to deliver an explosion powerful enough to level everything in its vicinity. There exists a class of super-heavy semi-guided bombs that can inflict damage equal to a squadron of Second World War medium bombers, with a single strike. In Vietnam, this awesome power was displayed in a manner arguably only matched in its brutality by the Daisy Cutter.

Developed under a project codenamed Commando Vault, the 15,000 lb (6,800 kg) BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system was designed to perform one task: drop from the rear cargo bay of a C-130, float down via parachute and semi-guided by a target computer, and then make as big of a boom as seen since Nagasaki.

The goal with this gigantic bomb? To turn swaths of Vietnamese jungle into smooth, perfectly flat ground where Huey's, Chinooks, and Cobra helicopters could establish forward landing zones in enemy territory. This gave this frankly horrifying-looking weapon the nickname Daisy Cutter. As far as how cruel weapons of war go, and there were a fair few on both sides in Vietnam, that's got to be up there near the top.

C\-130 Dropping Bombs
Photo: Department of Defense
But don't think even for a second that this was the most powerful bomb ever dropped by the C-130 or any of its relatives. There were still heavier bombs to be dropped. Weighing in at an Earth-shattering 18,700 lbs (9,800 kg), a singular Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) comes within a full 87% of the maximum payload of a B-29 Superfortress, the plane which dropped Fat Man and Little Boy on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

In theory, the MOAB might possibly be useable as an impact penetration weapon, i.e., a weapon that hits the ground and explodes as a result. But the truth is, and as the Air Force Research Laboratory knew from the getgo, dropping it that way would only take away from the true power of the explosion.

Much like nuclear weapons, bombs this huge work best as air-burst weapons. Allowing the bone-shattering and ear destroying concussive force of the blast to radiate in all directions no matter where the targets may be hiding. Such was the case with an operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant over the Achin District in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan on April 13th, 2017.

Involved was a single MC-130, an upgraded variant of the trusty Hercules platform stretching back to the late 1950s. With four beefed-up Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines jetting 4,910 shaft-hp (3,660 kW) each, plus a new suite of avionics and guidance/targeting computers, it was more than up for the job. Under the command of General John Nicholson, the MOAB slid out of the MC-130's cargo bay rails without a hitch.

C\-130 Dropping Bombs
Photo: Department of Defense
For days previously, fighter-bombers and drones were unable to neutralize a semi-subterranean tunnel system insurgent fighters were using as a bunker. But as the first ever MOAB operation reached its crescendo, the MC-130 crew must've known the rest would be fireworks.

MOAB promptly parachuted to its pre-determined detonation sight high above ground at approximately 7:32 pm local time. Safe to say, the MOAB did what normal bombs couldn't with a single awe-inspiring boom. Thanks to careful coordination between military personnel and local tribal leaders, all 96 individuals instantly vaporized by the explosion are believed to have been ISIS fighters, and there were no civilian losses.

It just goes to show the C-130 platform truly is capable of doing just about anything that isn't a dogfight. But hey, maybe they'll strap a truck load of Sidewinders to its wing pylons one day, just to see what happens. Laser blasters are also not out of the question, right?
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