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Lockheed YMC-130 Combat Talon Operation Credible Sport JATO Accident

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Published on Dec 12, 2008

Operation Credible Sport was a United States military aircraft modification plan in late 1980 to prepare for a second rescue attempt of the hostages held in Iran using C-130 cargo planes modified with rocket engines. Its followup project in 1981-82, Credible Sport II, used one of the original aircraft as the YMC-130 prototype for the MC-130H Combat Talon II.

The Credible Sport program was a developmental project to create capabilites for a "Super STOL" aircraft to use in rescuing the hostages after the dramatic failure of Operation Eagle Claw. Eagle Claw failed when a Sea Stallion helicopter crashed into a parked C-130 Hercules in the Iranian desert, killing 8 servicemen. Credible Sport was abandoned as unnecessary after the election of Ronald Reagan as President in November, 1980. The program was developed to be a quick strike, simplified plan when overall plans and military exercises developed for Project Honey Badger to implement a second rescue attempt grew to involve over a hundred primary aircraft and large numbers of ground troops.

The Credible Sport concept called for modified C-130 Hercules cargo planes to land in the Amjadien (soccer) Stadium across the street from the American Embassy in Tehran and airlift out the rescued hostages. The aircraft would then be flown to and landed on an aircraft carrier for immediate medical treatment of injured hostages. Three MC-130 Combat Talon crews (all Eagle Claw veterans) were assigned to fly the three aircraft drawn from the 463rd Military Airlift Wing, with the concept plan calling for the mission to originate in the United States, reaching Iran by five in flight refuelings.

The test bed aircraft (74-2065) was ready for its first test flight on September 18, 1980, just three weeks after the project was initiated. The first fully modified aircraft, AF Serial No. 74-1683, was delivered on October 17 to TAB 1, a disused auxiliary airfield at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Between October 19 and October 28, numerous flights were made testing various aspects, including the double-slotted flaps system, which enabled the C-130 to fly at 85 knots on final approach at just an eight-degree glide slope. All aspects worked flawlessly, and a full profile test was scheduled for October 29.

During the test, the Lockheed crew determined that the computer used to command the firing of the rockets during the landing sequence needed further calibration to perform the crucial firing sequence during landing, and elected to manually input commands. The reverse-mounted (forward facing) eight ASROC rockets were situated in pairs on the upper curvature of the fuselage behind the cockpit, and at the mid-point of each side of the fuselage beneath the uppers. Testing had determined that the upper pairs, fired sequentially, could be ignited while still airborne (specifically, at 20 feet), the lower pairs could only be fired after the aircraft was on the ground. The flight engineer, blinded by the firing of the upper deceleration rockets, thought the aircraft was on the runway and fired the lower set early, while the descent-braking rockets did not fire at all. Later unofficial disclaimers alleged to have been made by some members of the Lockheed test crew asserted that the lower rockets fired themselves through an undetermined computer or electrical malfunction, which at the same time failed to fire the descent-braking rockets.

As a result, the aircraft's forward flight vector was reduced to zero, dropping it to the runway and tearing off the starboard wing between the third and fourth engines. During rollout the trailing wing ignited a fire, but crash response teams extinguished the fire within eight seconds of the aircraft stopping, enabling the crew to exit the aircraft without injury. 74-1683 was destroyed but most of its unique systems were salvaged.

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