Home Classic Airliners The Story of Delta’s Hercules Aircraft

The Story of Delta’s Hercules Aircraft

by Matt Falcus

In a very unusual move for a civil airline, Delta Air Lines actually operated a fleet of Lockheed Hercules transport aircraft in full livery back in the 1960s and 70s.

Normally the preserve of military operators, the Hercules was made available by Lockheed to civilian operators as a cargo aircraft.

Here’s the story of how Delta flew them:

RuthAS, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1966 Delta Air Lines became the world’s first commercial operator of a Lockheed Hercules aircraft when it took delivery of three L-100-10 Hercules aircraft in a pure freighter configuration.

The aircraft flew in the colours of Delta, with its famous widget scheme gracing the bulbous fuselage and high tail of the aircraft.

At the time Delta needed an ability to transport cargo and bulk loads around its network, both on behalf of commercial operations as well as part of its own maintenance needs.

The spacious interior of the Hercules was perfect for shipping engines to stricken aircraft, in particular.

For Delta, these aircraft replaced and provided more capacity than the Curtiss-Wright C-46 piston airliners it had previously been using as freighters.


Stretch and Upgrade

In 1968, Delta sent its Hercules aircraft to receive a modification to L-100-20 configuration, which included a stretch of 8.3 feet in the fuselage.

The lengthy process of converting them led Delta to lease in additional Hercules aircraft to cover its operations during the downtime.


End of Delta Hercules Operations

Delta was really proud to operate the Hercules. It was one of the only civil airlines flying such a large cargo aircraft at the time, and was even more proud that they were built at Marietta, not far from their Atlanta, GA, base.

However, a change in the times saw new passenger airliners coming to the fore which could carry large amounts of cargo, even bulky freight, in their bellies under the feet of passengers. The need for dedicated freighters didn’t exist any more once the Boeing 747, Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed TriStar joined Delta’s fleet.

Therefore, Delta’s Hercules aircraft were all sold on in 1973 and 1974.


The aircraft all went on to other operators, surviving into the 1990s. The fleet comprised:

N9258R (msn 4170), sold to Pacific Western Airlines in 1973.

N9259R (msn 4176), sold to Alaska International Air in 1973.

N9262R (msn 4248), sold to Alaska International Air in 1972.

N9268R (msn 4147), sold to Saturn Airways in 1973.


Delta Air Lines – The Book

Find out more about the history of Delta Air Lines, from small crop-dusting operation in the 1920s to today’s giant airline with over 900 aircraft in its fleet, in our new book – Delta Air Lines, by Matt Falcus.

Along the way Delta had many interesting moments, from operating the Hercules aircraft, to merging with many other important airlines like Western, Northeast Airlines and Northwest Airlines.

This book charts the full history and is full of interesting photographs depicting the aircraft and operations of Delta over the years.

Get Your Copy Today





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