Lockheed MC-130P Combat Shadow History

The Lockheed MC-130P "Combat Shadow" debuted with American forces in the Vietnam War when it was known under the designation of HC-130P. The series went on to number 28 aircraft and its role evolved from Search and Rescue, Command and Control and aerial refueling to aerial refueling and support of Special Operations Forces (SOF) as the MC-130P in 1986. The MC-130P maintains an active status in the United States Air Force inventory though it is slated to be replaced by the incoming MC-130J "Commando II" model in the same role. The J-model debuted in 2011 and is expected to reach a fleet strength of 37 by the end of 2017.

As with other special forces aircraft, the MC-130P is expected to undertake rather dangerous, low-altitude sorties during night hours in support for SOF. This allows the system to refuel SOF aircraft, extract/insert SOF elements or air drop needed supplies and equipment. Underwing pods allow the aircraft to supply fuel to awaiting helicopters or tilt-rotor aircraft.

The MC-130P retains much of the form and function of the original C-130 "Hercules" line including its high-wing mounting, four engine turboprop arrangement and tail vertical tail fin. The rear of the fuselage is raised to provide the needed access to the cargo hold which is facilitated through a large powered rear door. The undercarriage is rather short which gives the aircraft a very low presence when on the ground yet it is robust enough for rough-field operations and Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) procedures.

The USAF operates the P-models across three operational squadrons and a training group. An additional four are operated through the Air National Guard.

The Combat Shadow is powered by four Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines with two mounted on each wing. The system is crewed by eight personnel and has a listed ceiling of 33,000 feet with a top speed of nearly 300 miles per hour. Range is listed as past 4,000 miles. The Combat Shadow was first deployed into active service in 1986 and has served in conflicts such as Panama, Desert Storm, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Bosnia, Liberia, Zaire, and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom).

The MC-130P is fitted with a myriad of systems that help the crew work in day/night operations and can detect and react to enemy ground weapons systems. Systems include a Head-Up Display (HUD), Night Vision (NV), Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation, and Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) for threat detection. As well as delivering fuel to friendly special operations aircraft of both the United States Army and Air Force, the MC-130P can itself receive in-flight refueling from other tanker aircraft. Fourteen such MC-130P models are modified in this fashion.

Lockheed MC-130P Combat Shadow Specification


Active, In-Service


[ 27 Units ]:
Lockheed Martin - USA


- Aerial Refueling

- Special Forces



98.72 ft (30.09 m)


132.55 ft (40.4 m)


38.39 ft (11.7 m)



153,772 lb (69,750 kg)

(Diff: +153,772lb)


4 x Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines delivering 4,910 horsepower each.


Maximum Speed:

289 mph (465 kph; 251 kts)

Service Ceiling:

32,808 feet (10,000 m; 6.21 miles)

Maximum Range:

4,000 miles (6,437 km; 3,476 nm)




C-130 "Hercules" - Basic Transport Airframe

MC-130 - Special Forces Series Multi-Purpose Platform.

MC-130E - 1966-era Special Forces Insertion / Extraction / Supply Drop aircraft.

MC-130H - 1980-era "improved" MC-130E system; updated avionics; broadened role aircraft.

HC-130N/P - Initial MC-130P system designation; "H" designation is now relegated to rescue and recovery systems and not special operations role.

MC-130P - Special Operations Command tanker fleet designation.

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