Air Force Developing Amphibious C-130


The U.S. Air Force is reportedly fast-tracking development of an amphibious float mod for the C-130 to respond to increasing tension with China in the South Pacific. The float-equipped aircraft would be used to deploy personnel, including Special Forces. The aircraft would allow “the Air Force to increase placement and access for infiltration, exfiltration, and personnel recovery, as well as providing enhanced logistical capabilities,” Lt. Col. Josh Trantham, Air Force Special Operation Command’s science, systems, technology, and innovation deputy division chief, said in a September news release.

The Air Force apparently wants a working prototype by the end of 2022 and is working with a private company on the development. Renderings of the finished product show floats that are almost the full length of the fuselage and would raise the aircraft more than 20 feet on the float-borne landing gear. The floats will be removable. The U.S. military hasn’t operated amphibs for more than 50 years but the Coast Guard used seaplanes until 1983.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. For far less money, the USAF could buy some used HU-16’s and restart the line. This idea is N U T T Y !!!

    • So you want to start building a plane that hasn’t been built for more than half a century (there is likely zero tooling, maybe no prints, zero legacy workforce), and is about 1/4 the gross, and has only two radial engines, to do the job of a proven, in-production airplane?
      Adding the amphib setup seems like the way to go, if one is forced to go that way.

    • Unfortunately, there are only about 2 dozen valuable Albatrosses left, including the 12 G-111’s. Gonna have a tough time getting owners to give them up… The military thought they didn’t need them any longer when they could extend the range of helicopters with air refueling.

  2. The C-130 Amphib float concept goes back several decades. There was a couple proof of concept models and the military dropped it because there was no need at the time. In the 80’s the Fire Fighting groups still had a lot of PBYs and there were still left over WWII era aircraft to fall back on if the amphibious need arose. Our shop had a toy model of a Floated C-130 hanging from our Alaska hanger ceiling. We thought it would make for a great mobile hunting/fishing lodge. 🙂

    The Chinese have their own Turbine powered Amphibian… Search ‘AVIC AG600’
    Gotta keep up with the Jones’s or Wongs.

    • Well, there’s looks a heck of a lot better than ours! A C-130 on floats just looks ungainly, to say the least. I wonder how much drag those floats create and how that drag affects take off length, cruise speed, rate pf climb, range, altitude, and last but not least, cargo capacity. Time to go back to Grumman…oh wait, they aren’t exactly in business any longer are they?

      • Actually, they sorta are in St Augustine. Northrop bought Grumman in 1995. The Grumman facility at SGJ was a wholly owned subsidiary called GSAC … Grumman St Augustine Corp. All of the flying operations on Long Island were transferred there. I went to work there in 1999 and heard that there was a warehouse full of Albatross parts near the airport. I never saw it, though. A stretched Albatross with turbine engines would be pretty slick. In any event … floats hanging on a C130 are not the way to go. A flying boat IS.

        • Hmm, did anyone convert an Albatross to turboprops. Certainly Goose conversions were common.

          Wasn’t there a structural problem with Albatross in airline service? Lack of good inspection IIRC, which should have been avoided with the Aging Aircraft maintenance development process.

    • There you go, the J model has more power BUT tail needs to be larger or rear fuselage lengthened to avoid reducing power on other outboard engine when one resigns, and handle forward sail area of floats. It is possible to stall the fin. (Longer rear fuselage exists in stretched version of the Herc, in combination with extended forward fueselage.)

    • Well, Communist China may have given USAF a nudge, but the notion of insertion/rescue via water must be old.

      Canso/Catalina and even Stranrauer must have done that.

      Maybe Viking Aviation can put floats on Buffalos, it wants to revive that STOL transport. It has revived the Twin Otter and improved the CL415.

  3. Words simply cannot describe the nuttiness of this idea. This makes about as much sense as claiming Hunter Biden is an “artist.”

  4. Several comments, being intimately familiar with the HU-16. Type rated and have restored 2 of them.
    1. USCG operated HU-16’s until 1983, but did NOT operated them on or off of water for more than a dozen years before they retired them
    2. Ken S: Grumman built 455 HU-16 Albatrosses. 302 of the 455 were built under contract for the USAF. USN and USCG were minor players with this airplane. The USAF operated the Albatross in worse conditions on the open ocean than either the USN or USCG allowed. Zoomies WERE the most experienced pilots in this airplane.
    3. The Japanese used the HU-16 to develop their own seaplane, the Shinmeiwa. I think there were about a dozen of them based at Iwakuni with the USMC, but in the water there. Maybe the USAF ought to go talk with the Japanese about buying some Shimmeiwa’s

    • Bingo. Polkovnik. Being retired USAF, I knew most of that. And, being retired Northrop Grumman, I heard a lot of interesting stories about the HU-16, as well. A NEW updated version would likely be well within the cost confines of adding that ridiculous looking floatplane abortion to a C-130. The C-130 IS a great airplane but it isn’t a seaplane; making one out of it would be crazy. I wonder how many of the commenters here have sea plane ratings ?? (I do but not typed in the HU-16). Next thing we know, some current 4-star USAF “einstein” will want to make an air cushion vehicle out of a C-130. Just who the hell is running MY USAF ???

  5. George Grover might be pleased, if he is still alive.

    (Designer of CAP floats including for Twin Otter, he had a model of a Dash 7 on floats in his office – it looked much more real than your model with high drag front bracing.
    Your hotshot editor I occasionally spar with over values should know of him.)

    BTW, didn’t Lockheed once have a notion to modify lower fuselage into a seaplane hull?

    Canadian and US CCG should buy

    • There is the CL-415 with upgrades, routinely used to fight forest fires in Canada, Europe, and US.

      Viking Aviation has studied broader use of it.
      Note large cargo door envisioned.

      Is amphibious, slower and smaller than C-130 (though floats would probably slow the C-130 down).

      I expect what interests USAF in adding floats to C-130s is being able to shift from wheels to skis to floats quickly, as is done for small airplanes like Twin Otter. (C-130 has long operated on skis including into Antarctica.) But a purpose built amphibian like the Shin Maywa may be better.

      • Correction: the airplane manufacturer from Sidney BC and Calgary AB is usually known as ‘Viking Air Ltd’, whereas there have been unrelated ‘Viking Aviation’ companies in different business fields elsewhere in the world.

  6. If this were the 1950’s, a new prototype sea plane would be designed and built within a year with production copies rolling off the line in months afterwards.

    Given all the advantages of computers to speed up design and testing along with robots to speed production, and adding into that 70 years of experience in manufacturing we now will take a longer period to put floats on a C130 for the second or third time? Can you imagine the reaction of a 50’s plane designer if you showed him modern composites and asked him to build you a sea plane out of it?

    No wonder we are worried about ChiCom expansionism. We’ve somehow become a centralized economy afraid of ruffling feathers if we actually achieve anything. No wonder we are falling behind. They are better at totalitarianism than we are along with having cultural and genetic predispositions towards it.


  7. Child’s play—really impress us with a C-5 or C-17 on floats if you’re going to tinkle away our tax dollars on such insanity!

  8. I am impressed that the other commenters are so sure of their criticism of the air force plan. They seem so confident that the air force is clueless and spendthrift. They also have better ideas that the professionals haven’t considered, or worse vetoed.
    At a 2019 AOPA fly-in, I had the privilege of getting a detailed tour of a C-130 by the pros who worked it. I was struck by how much thinking goes into its design, manufacture and operation. Despite its round gauge panel, I understood why it is still in service 60 years later.
    That said, I am completely unqualified to comment on the plan to float a C-130, but I trust the folks who are charged with the decision.

    • The Hercules is in most respects a typical transport airplane.

      Optimized for large cargo, with its huge rear door (ramp).

      I’ve worked with it in design, test flying, cargo handling, … And with L-188 Electra which had an advanced flight deck for its day, and 727 which is about the same weight but higher tire pressure and engines slower to develop thrust when needed immediately – Pacific Western flew all three types into the High Arctic.

  9. Move engines to the top of wing, cut off bottom of fuselage replace with hull bottom, extend wing tip tanks to make pontoons, SEA PLANE. Ta-Da.

    • Image what engineers can do with the ‘Martin JRM Mars’ redesign using computers, composites and turbines? 🙂

    • That’s been proposed at least without moving engines up (they are already high though on top Electra style would be better in high sea state).

      The Martin Mars was optimized for transport, even if initially considered as a bomber. Its double-deck configuration resulted in a tall hull which put engines high. I take you as praising the configuration, whereas its materials and construction and engines are old. (Coulson has updated flight deck avionics on one of its two Mars, the other now in USN colors has a less useful water drop door configuration.)

      The Shin Meywa US-2 is designed for rescue and supply in high seas. Seems to be what USAF wants, USAF should buy several. (Is STOL performance which fits USAF mission. Payload from fire bomber figure is 33,000 pounds which seems good in context, Herc is roughly 50,000 less weight of floats. Herc of course has big rear door (ramp). US-2 has a tall hull, props appear to be in line with wing.

  10. One factor that everyone is totally missing is that any amphibious missions the Air Force envisions will be very limited in size and scope and hardly enough to justify either building a new airplane or buying a fleet of existing aircraft with the attendant maintenance issues. With the add on float concept, the only thing new to maintain is the floats, which can be added or removed to change the size of the fleet as required.

  11. The USAF (a National Guard Special Ops Squadron) had SA-16 Albatross aircraft as recently as 1972. Not sure how long they kept them, but they were used to support US Army Special Forces. They operated them off of water and land.