Home Book Reviews C-130 Hercules A History – Book Review

C-130 Hercules A History – Book Review

by Matt Falcus
c-130 hercules book

 c-130 hercules book

I try to keep the focus of this website to civil aircraft and airports without straying into military territory too often. However, sometimes you hit the middle ground and I take the chance that you might be interested in reading about something which covers both civil and military.

So when Pen & Sword offered a review copy of Martin W Bowman’s new book covering the history of the C-130 Hercules I thought it could be one of those times.

I’m sure the Hercules doesn’t need much explaining. It is one of aviation’s true great aircraft – a mighty transporter used the world over and very capable in a number of roles. I was quite surprised that there have been so few books on the aircraft, however with it coming towards the end of its natural operational life perhaps we’ll see more being released.

This particular book, C-130 Hercules A History, is of the typical hardcover style being released by publishers like Pen & Sword lately. They look great on the bookshelves and have dramatic covers that make you want to delve inside.

And for anyone who is a fan of aviation writing, I’m sure Martin Bowman needs no introduction. He has written some of the more accomplished and enduring titles on all aspects of aviation, from war and military, to civil topics (we reviewed his Boeing 747 A History book last year). 

Diving straight into the book, it starts with a great opening chapter charting the inception of the Hercules, which emerged from a US Air Force requirement for an aircraft that could carry a 30,000lb payload of freight or troops over a distance of 1,500 nautical miles and could land or take off from difficult terrain. That was in 1950, and it was thought almost impossible to come up with such an aircraft at the time. However, when pitted against Boeing, Douglas and Fairchild, Lockheed’s proposal was chosen as the winner.

The design team made the brave decision to base their aircraft on the new turboprop technology for its four powerplants, rather than tried and tested piston engines. 

The Hercules entered service in 1956, making it 62 years old this year. It had only been in service ten years when the type (by now modified through a number of variants) was thrown into the Vietnam War. It would make its name here, and the next chapters of the book look at its operational service throughout the campaign and subsequent years with a lot of memorable insights and stories from crews. 

c-130 hercules book

Subsequent chapters look at the C-130 in other conflicts, including Israel in the 1970s, Grenada in the 1980s and the Gulf War of the 1990s, plus the impressive modifications and uses for the versatile type. It also looks at the Hercules’ operation in the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Royal Air Force, through its Falklands conflict in particular.

It concludes with a look at the Hercules in the 21st Century, including the more recent C-130J variant, as well as its use in humanitarian operations and a summary of all the different models and variants of Hercules.

c-130 hercules a history

Martin Bowman has managed to collect a stunning selection of images to support each chapter, which really brings the book to life. The anecdotes and stories are also well researched and give the book a lot of authority.

Because of the focus on stories and operations through conflicts, this is less of a technical book or timeline history of the Hercules, and it perhaps offers less of the civil side of its use than I’d have liked. But considering this was always conceived as a military transport and logistics machine, I can’t complain and I was certainly gripped throughout, learning a lot of new information on one of the greatest aircraft ever built.


C-130 Hercules A History by Martin W Bowman is available now, priced £25 / US$39.95. You can buy it from Pen & Sword here, or from Amazon here.



You may also like

Leave a Comment