History of the MC-130E Combat Talon I

There were initially four different using organizations operating sixteen aircraft. Three U.S. Air Force squadrons ("users") performed many Secret missions for the Combat Talon program, with twelve aircraft modified to the Rivet Clamp configuration. The fourth user was further cloaked and participated in Top Secret missions for HEAVY CHAIN and other classified programs, using four aircraft designated as Rivet Yard. These designators identified the hardware configuration of the respective aircraft. The original aircraft were identified as follows:

Rivet Clamp Aircraft Rivet Yard Aircraft
  • 64-0523
  • 64-0547 *
  • 64-0551
  • 64-0555
  • 64-0558
  • 64-0559
  • 64-0561
  • 64-0562
  • 64-0563 *
  • 64-0566
  • 64-0567
  • 64-0568
  • 62-1843
  • 63-7785
  • 64-0564
  • 64-0565
* Destroyed in 1967

Each user had four aircraft assigned. Combat Talon missions were divided into three organizations, each providing coverage to different geographical areas: Combat Spear covered the Pacific theater, operating from several different bases ; Combat Arrow covered the European and West Asian theater, operating from a home base in Germany ; and Combat Knife covered Central and South America, and Africa, operating from Pope Air Force Base, NC, then later Hurlburt Field, FL. The Rivet Clamp aircraft were sometimes swapped from one Combat Talon user to another, if necessary, to satisfy logistical requirements. Four of the original sixteen aircraft have been lost and two aircraft were added as replacements to the fleet, resulting in fourteen aircraft still operating (as of January 2001):

In November 1967, aircraft 64-0563 was destroyed on the ground by fire that was started during a mortar attack at Nha Trang Air Base, South Vietnam.

In December 1967, aircraft 64-0547 crashed near Hanoi, North Vietnam, during the performance of a combat mission.

Aircraft 64-0571 and 64-0572 were incorporated in 1968 as replacements for 563 and 547. These two aircraft were modified to be functional equivalents to the Rivet Clamp configuration, except for the Fulton Recovery (Skyhook) system. These two aircraft still have the standard nose.

In February 1972, 64-0558 was destroyed in a mid-air collision off the North Carolina coast during an ECM training exercise at night. Previously, this aircraft had been severely damaged during a nighttime TF (Terrain Following) training mission in January 1969, when it flew into trees on the top of a mountain near Blowing Rock, NC. The crew regained control of the aircraft, and managed to safely land at the Hickory, NC commercial airport. The aircraft required extensive depot repair, but was repaired, modified to the Mod 70 configuration, and returned to service.

December 31, 1973, the HEAVY CHAIN missions were discontinued. The four Rivet Yard aircraft were returned to depot to be de-modified, to be capable of accomplishing the Combat Talon mission but without the extra security measures required to support the previous Top Secret configuration. The configuration designation was changed from "Rivet Yard" to "Rivet Yank", and the aircraft were made available for Combat Talon missions in 1974. . 564 and 565 had originally been Skyhook configured, but the user had directed the Fulton noses be removed in 1968; so all four Rivet Yank aircraft were standard nose configured. While the Rivet Yard aircraft were operational, they had received special attention for routine field and depot maintenance, and were usually the first to take advantage of available upgrades. These four were among the first C-130s to get the Allison T56-15 engines, replacing the old -7s; therefore, they had a better climb capability than the Rivet Clamp aircraft. The Rivet Clamps waited several more years for the normal procurement cycle to provision their engine upgrades. The Combat Spear (Pacific) user took all four Rivet Yank aircraft as replacements for their Rivet Clamps. The four departing Rivet Clamps were assigned to Combat Knife (Hurlburt), temporarily creating a surplus. Hurlburt was able to justify two of the additional aircraft to support student flights, since training was becoming more formalized. Two aircraft, however, were unsupportable at Hurlburt, and were turned in to the Item Manager (AFLC/AZ). Aircraft 571 and 572 were partially de-modified (primarily by removing classified ECM systems) and were put out on loan. 571 was assigned to Kirtland AFB, NM, where it was used as a special test aircraft. 572 was used as a utility aircraft by ASD at Wright Patterson. These two were temporarily modified and designated as "Rivet Swap" aircraft.

In the mid-1970s, the Special Ops aircraft type (designator) was changed by the Air Force from C-130E(I) to MC-130E, except for the two Rivet Swaps, which were changed to NC-130E. The four aircraft assigned to Combat Arrow (Germany) had been modified in the latter 70s to add special ECM systems tailored for the European Theater of operation. This modification was referred to as the ECM Update. At this point there were four different system configurations (primarily ECM systems) among the 15 remaining Combat Talon I airplanes:

ECM Update

64 - 0551
64 - 0562
64 - 0559
64 - 0567
64 - 0568

64 - 0523
64 - 0555
64 - 0561
64 - 0566

62 - 1843
63 - 7785
64 - 0564
64 - 0565

64 - 0571
64 - 0572

In 1981, aircraft 564 crashed into the South China Sea just west of the Philippine island of Luzon. One aircraft from Hurlburt (Combat Knife) was loaned to Clark Air Base (Combat Spear) to temporarily fill in. Aircraft 572 was re-modified to the Rivet Clamp configuration and was sent to Hurlburt. 571 was brought back from Kirtland and modified from the Rivet Swap configuration to a Rivet Yank configuration (there were differences in ECM systems), and was then permanently assigned to Combat Spear in the Pacific.

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