It’s November 21, 1970, and two specially modified Lockheed MC-130 U.S. Air Force planes have just taken off from a Thai airbase en route to a Vietnamese prison camp. The MC-130E craft – known as Combat Talons – are part of Operation Ivory Coast: an audacious attempt to rescue 61 American prisoners of war from the communists. And the highly specialized planes are bristling with top-secret equipment.
In fact, the U.S Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) had several of the MC-130Es in their inventory. To create the MC-130E, Lockheed had made modifications to the basic C-130 Hercules – a four-engined turboprop machine originally designed to carry cargo and troops. And new military and civilian versions of the plane have been created ever since, with some versions of the C-130 still in service today.
In particular, Lockheed had started adapting the standard Hercules aircraft in the mid-1960s so that variants of the plane could be used in highly clandestine U.S Air Force missions. The modified versions of the C-130 have thereafter been used for tasks such as retrieving troops, giving supplies to secret operations and air refueling of combat craft.