A C-130 Hercules cargo plane performs a tactical landing on a dirt strip at the Sicily Landing Zone on Fort Bragg, N.C. Paratroopers re-enacted a D-Day jump to the zone. The C-130 is assigned to the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Wing.
Maximum Effort Landings in the C-130
Landing on unimproved airstrips has been the bread and butter of the tactical airlift community for over half a century. Known as a Maximum Effort Landing, the C-130 can operate in and out of dirt strips that measure 3000 feet long by 50 feet wide. For comparison, a similar size commercial jet airliner uses a paved runway that is at least 6000 feet long and 150 feet wide.
To get “dirt” qualified, new aircraft commanders go through a few hours of ground school, then head the dirt strip with an instructor. In the first video, we see the cockpit view from a C-130H2 with the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope Field while the AC gets her first dirt landing.
C-130J Super Hercules Startup Engine
The second shows the view from the ground as a C-130H “High Roller” from 152d Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard lands on a dirt strip in Central Wisconsin. In the final video, we see a C-130J from the Royal Danish Air Force as it hits the assault zone on a beach along the North Sea.
Landing a 130,000-pound airplane on a 3000-foot unimproved runway is no easy task. The key to a Max Effort Landing touching down is the 400-foot “assault zone,” a space that is equal to roughly four aircraft lengths and is marked by cerise panels located 100 feet and 500 from the landing threshold.
Touch down in “the zone” and you’re golden. Touch down outside the zone and it’s a mandatory go-around. If you look closely, you can see the cerise panels in each of the videos.
These landings aren’t just for show. U.S. Air Force C-130s and other tactical air-lifters have been hitting the dirt and hauling the trash from Khe Sahn, Vietnam to Khost, Afghanistan. Their missions are vitally important to our nation’s warfighting capability and shall remain so.