‘If a C-130 were to lose 3 of its 4 engines in flight, the crew will be working their a***s off to keep the plane flying,’ James Riley, former C-130 Hercules loadmaster.
Originally designed by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) as an assault transport able to operate from unpaved airstrips, the C-130 Hercules made its first flight in August 1954. Until today, the US Air Force (USAF) used various versions of this versatile aircraft for aeromedical evacuation, mid-air refueling of helicopters, mid-air space capsule recovery, search and rescue, reconnaissance, as a gunship, and for many other missions.
The initial production model was the C-130A, with four Allison T56-A-11 or -9 turboprop engines. The C-130B introduced Allison T56-A-7 turboprop engines.
Introduced in August of 1962, the C-130E used the same Allison T56-A-7 engine of the B model. June 1974 introduced the first of 308 C-130Hs with the more powerful Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engine.
The latest C-130 to be produced, the C-130J, entered the inventory in February 1999. With the noticeable difference of a six-bladed composite propeller coupled to a Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 turboprop engine, the C-130J brings substantial performance improvements over all previous models.
Can a C-130 aircraft be flown with only 1 engine working?
‘If you mean performing a takeoff, the answer is no,’ explains James Riley, former C-130 Hercules loadmaster, on Quora.
‘If a C-130 were to lose 3 of its 4 engines in flight, the crew will be working their a***s off to keep the plane flying. Single engine performance is based on many factors such as aircraft weight, air temperature, whether the operating motor is inboard or outboard, and a dozen other factors.
‘There are instances of C-130 aircraft successfully landing on a single engine. I’m sure the crew jettisoned fuel and carefully considered airfield elevation and temperature before committing.
‘Ultimately to answer your question, the answer is yes, it can be done. But it’s no guarantee in all cases.
‘In my 30 years spent as a crewman (loadmaster) on C-130B/E/H/HC/J from 1983 to 2013, with over 8000 hours total, I was on a crew that once experienced a 2 engine loss on the left side. Talk about pucker factor, it was high. But the crew, all commensurate professionals, got the plane down to an alternate airport within under 15 minutes.
‘I love the C-130, it served us well and was the best powerhouse workhorse aircraft in the inventory. From short, unprepared dirt runways to all others in between, the Herk was up for it.’
Former C-130 crew member Cindy Hooker, confirms that the Hercules can land on a single engine.
‘Left NC Air base to Germany, stopped in England, then diverted to Ireland then headed to Germany. About an hour before landing the plane dropped then leveled out. About 15 mins later it did it again. We were told that we had lost 2 engines but all was OK. 10 mins before landing it did it a 3rd time. When we landed we were met with fire trucks. Other than being a little scared and a bit of a bumpy ride at the end, I wouldn’t want to be in any other aircraft!’
Former C-130 pilot J William Mantz instead recalls that time when his Hercules was able to land after almost all of its engines failed.
‘I was on an upgrade check ride with FAA inspector on board as well check pilot in the right seat. Following low level route with cargo air drop and short dirt field tactical landing, went into traffic pattern to finish up. Fire light on engine one, followed checklist and shut down. Emergency declared. Next, fire light on engine three. Same procedure and shut down. Balanced power, not on same side. Load master reported no visual fire. Engine four had fire warning on left turn to base. Shutdown per checklist. On turn to final, engine two fire light. “Abandon checklist. Burn, baby burn.” Needed hydraulics for brakes, steering and generator. Could have dead sticked with airspeed and altitude and a 12,000 ft. runway, but was suspicious of no evidence of fire. Post mortem an electrical malfunction. No fire.’
Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen / U.S. Air Force