GEAR & TECH

This C-130 has the power to get into the enemy's mind

The C-130 is a very valuable transport – and a legend. It's hauled cargo and troops since December, 1956. That gives it almost 61 years of service — a most impressive run.


And the plane is still rolling off the Lockheed Martin assembly line today.

That description of this amazing plane's longevity still sells the Hercules short. It's not only been in the air a long time, it's been modified for a crazy amount of different missions, including as a gunship.

But one of the less-well known versions is the EC-130J Commando Solo II. This Hercules doesn't haul stuff or blow stuff up. Instead, like the 1930s-era comic book detective The Shadow, it has the power to cloud the mind of the enemy.

Flying over the Pennsylvania countryside in a training mission, the EC-130E/J Commando Solo is a specially-modified four-engine Hercules transport that conducts information operations, psychological operations and broadcasts information in various frequencies. The 193rd Special Operations Wing, Harrisburg International Airport, Pa., has total responsibility for the Commando Solo missions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Commando Solo is a very rare version of the Hercules. According to an Air Force fact sheet, only three airframes are in service, all with the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. It is equipped as a flying radio and TV station, capable of broadcasting AM radio, FM radio, and color television.

The plane has seen action a number of times, including during the liberation of Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury), Operation Just Cause, Desert Storm, the 1994 intervention in Haiti, the Balkans, and in the War on Terror. The planes usually operate at night, so as to not be detected. Even then, they carry what the Air Force calls "self-protection equipment."

The last Air National Guard EC-130E Commando Solo takes off above a C-130 Hercules for the final time at the Harrisburg International Airport on Monday, April 3, 2006. The "E" model has flown members of the 193rd Special Operations Wing into combat since the Vietnam Conflict. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The EC-130J has been in service since 2004. It has a crew of nine (pilot, copilot, combat systems officer, mission crew supervisor, three electronic communications systems operators and two loadmasters), a range of 2,300 nautical miles (without aerial refueling), and usually cruises at a speed of 335 miles per hour.

You can see a video of a training mission on the Commando Solo below.