The Lockheed MC-130 is the basic designation for a family of special missions aircraft operated by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) of the United States Air Force. Based on the C-130 Hercules transport, their mission is the `infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces, as well as psychological operations support and helicopter air refueling.
Members of the family include the MC-130E Combat Talon I, MC-130H Combat Talon II, MC-130W Combat Spear, and MC-130P Combat Shadow. A possible MC-130 variant, designated the XFC-130H, did not proceed beyond the development stage, but one of its aircraft became the YMC-130H test bed aircraft for the Combat Talon II.
The MC-130E was the first Combat Talon and was developed to support clandestine special operations missions during the Vietnam War. 18 were created by modifying C-130E transports, and four lost through attrition, but the remainder continue in service more than four decades after their initial modification. An updated Combat Talon II was developed in the 1980s from the C-130H variant of the Hercules and went into service in the 1990s. Four its 24 original aircraft have been lost in operations. The Combat Spear was implemented in 2006 as a cost effective program to supplement the Combat Talon II force, based on the same airframe. The Combat Shadow version is a redesignation of the most recent variant of the HC-130, developed during the Vietnam War for search and rescue operations, several of which were diverted to AFSOC in the 1980s to provide it organic air refueling assets.
One of the most distinctive features of the MC-130, The Fulton Surface-To-Air Recovery System, was used to extract personnel and materials via air. A large helium balloon raised a nylon lift line into the air, which was snagged by a large scissors-shaped yoke attached to the nose of the plane. The yoke snagged the line and released the balloon, yanking the attached cargo off the ground with a shock less than that of an opening parachute. A sky anchor secured the line and wires stretched from the nose to both leading wing tip edges protected the propellers from the line on missed snag attempts. Crew members hooked the snagged line as it trailed behind and attached it to the hydraulic winch, pulling the attached person or cargo into the plane through the rear cargo door.