For a C-130, What’s on the Outside Counts, Too
While gray C-130s certainly outnumber any other Hercules livery, new and returning Hercules customers have options when it comes to the paint scheme of their new airlifter. Basically… it’s whatever they want.
“Initial concepts for new C-130 liveries are typically recommended by the customer,” said Tomek Sudol, senior systems engineer on the C-130 Program and a one-man operation for all C-130 livery development (pictured below). “Usually, if the customer is operating legacy C-130 aircraft, they prefer similar paint schemes to their existing fleet. Other times, they ask for paint schemes similar to their non-C-130 aircraft. Everyone else just has an idea of a scheme they want so I’ll provide various recommendation so they can choose.”
Once a livery is decided, Sudol will move forward in releasing the related engineering and the team in the C-130 paint barn at the Lockheed Martin site in Marietta, Georgia (home to Hercules final production) goes to work.
The most commonly-painted Super Hercules livery today is the two-shade, gray scallop pattern painted on U.S. Air Force Special Operations tankers. However, looking at paint schemes over the life of the program, the single-color, matte gray wins the race since not only does the U.S. Air Force use this livery on its mobility command aircraft, but so do international customers such as Tunisia, Israel, Canada and many others.
When asked which of his paint schemes is his favorite, Sudol said the one used by the Kuwait Air Force.
“The Kuwait tankers, which have a matte, three-color desert camouflage pattern that wraps around the entire aircraft,” he said, noting the aircraft also has unique Arabic details.
Surprisingly, the C-130 is not painted all at one time. At various stages of production, areas such as wheel wells, flap wells, ramp edges and control surfaces are painted individually.
While Sudol is the C-130 Program’s engineer for livery schematics, there are more than 30 Lockheed Martin team members in the paint barn ready to customize each C-130J coming through the door. Given current production demand, the paint team works one aircraft at a time, but can easily switch between liveries from aircraft-to-aircraft.
When it makes its way to the paint barn as a complete aircraft, it will then go through a full body paint job during a two-week period in accordance with the current two-week production pulse. This is also when customer-specific markings will be added, henceforth identifying it for the duration of production and delivery. This is the same for any scheme – gray or customized.
“Designing Hercules paint schemes and actually painting the C-130 takes a lot of attention to detail,” Sudol said.
The first production C-130 was actually natural metal. That aircraft—and the more than 500 others that have followed--was delivered more than 60 years go from the Marietta, Georgia, facility. Ever since, variations of the Hercules and Super Hercules have graced the skies of the U.S. and its allies bringing proven capabilities to those who need it most in the areas other aircraft can’t reach.