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MC-130P Combat Shadow

The MC-130P Combat Shadow is based around the venerable C-130 Hercules airframe. The aircraft is Operated by USAF Special Operations

note: the MC-130P began service in the mid 1980s and was eventually retired in May 2015.

MC-130P Combat Shadow - Roles

USAF Special Ops use the MC-130P aircraft for the following roles:

  • the MC-130P's primary mission is the air-to-air refueling of special operations helicopters, in friendly, politically-sensitive or hostile environments, day and night. Refueling operations typically occur in multi-ship formations to enable simultaneous refueling of multiple helicopters
  • insertion, extraction and re supply of special operations forces by airdrop and by landing/takeoff
  • psychological operations (leaflet drops)

MC-130P Combat Shadow - Features


To enable the MC-130P to penetrate hostile air space, it features an array of navigational systems. Since Combat Shadows frequently fly in the dead of night, the aircraft features night-vision-goggles-compatible HUD (head up display) and interior and exterior lighting.

For navigation. the MC-130P features a fully-integrated inertial navigation system, weather radar and GPS.

The communications package on the MC-130P includes satellite and data burst capabilities.

Defensive Systems

A suite of radar and missile warning sensors, in addition to flare and chaff launchers provide defense against hostile weapons systems.

Refueling Systems

MC-130Ps feature refueling pods fitted to the wings for refueling helicopters via drogues trailed behind the aircraft. The MC-130P can also take on fuel itself from other airborne tankers.

Differences with MC-130E/H

The Combat Shadow differs from the Combat Talons in several key areas:

  • navigation - the MC-130P lacks the terrain-following radar found in the MC-130E/H. This means that is less capable of flying low level in poor visibility
  • defensive systems - the Shadow lacks the more advanced defensive aids found on the MC-130E/H such as the DIRCM infrared jammers. The consequence of this is that MC-130Ps tend to be restricted to operating at night, under the cloak of darkness.
  • air drops - the MC-130P lacks a dual rail cargo loading system and a strengthened fuselage required for certain types of high speed air drops.
MC-130P - weather radar
The MC-130P features advanced weather radar and navigation avionics.
photo by : US Air Force
MC-130P - helicopter refueling
A HH-60G Pavehawk helicopter refuels from a drogue deployed from a MC-130P
photo : US Air Force

MC-130P Operational History

  • 1991 - Persian Gulf - Operation Desert Storm
    MC-130Ps provided air-to-air refueling for US special operations helicopters
    They also dropped Psyops leaflets on Iraq forces
  • 1992-2003 - Iraq - Operation Northern and Southern Watch
    MC-130ps supported operations to prevent the Iraqi air force from operating in proscribed areas.
  • 1993-- Former Yugoslavia - Operation Deny Flight
  • 1994 - Haiti - Operation Restore Democracy & Operation Uphold Democracy
  • 1995 - Bosnia - Deliberate Force & Joint Endeavor
  • 1996 - Liberia - Operation Assured Response
    Combat Shadows refueled MH-53 helicopters taking apart in the evacuation of American citizens
  • 1997 - Albania
    MC-130Ps supported the evacuation of American civilians from war-torn Albania
  • 2001-Present - Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom
  • 2003-Present - Iraq - Operation Iraqi Freedom

MC-130P Specifications

Crew 8:-
4 officers (pilot,copilot, primary navigator, secondary navigator
4 enlisted (flight engineer, communications officer, 2 loadmasters)
Engines 4 Allison turboprop engines T56-A-15
Dimensions Length : 29.8 meters (E) / 30.4 meters (H)
Height : 11.7 meters
Wingspan : 40.4 meters
Max Takeoff Weight 69,750 kilograms
Range 2,700 nm (without in-flight refueling)
Ceiling 33,000 feet
Speed 289 mph (sea level)
Defensive systems AN/ALE-27 chaff/flare dispensors
Avionics AN/ASN-159 Navigation Data Display Set
GPS Navigation
Inertial navigation
weather radar

MC-130P Combat Shadow
A USAF MC-130P Combat Shadow in flight over South Africa
Photo : US Air Force

MC-130P Combat Shadow Resources

« Special Ops Aircraft

Featured MC-130P Photo
MC-130p Combat Shadow
A MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft takes off from Kadena Air Base, Japan
(click photo for fullsize image)
more USAF Special Operations Aircraft photos

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