by Nora Edinger
CLARKSBURG -- They call it Hercules.
It's the big military plane you keep seeing on TV -- the beefy turboprop that's dropping food and medicine to Afghan citizens.
What you may not know is that each and every one of the C-130s playing a supporting role in the war on terrorism had its beginning at Lockheed Martin's Clarksburg facility.
The giant ramps the food bags slide down, the front edges of the wings and most of the nose components are among 600 of the cargo plane's parts assembled off Old U.S. Route 50 and trucked to Marietta, Ga., for final production.
"I have a sense of pride knowing that what we're doing on an everyday basis is going to help people and support troops," said Buddy Clark, plant manager.
Not that the feeling is anything new.
The local facility has produced about 17 percent of every C-130's parts since 1962, recently switching to the J series. The newest update features a fighter-style cockpit, more propellers and increased cargo capacity.
"Our bread and butter has been the C-130," Clark said. "It's 100 percent of our business right now."
The plant's 60-some workers assemble parts for about one plane a month, but Clark said that could at least triple if there is a sudden increase in demand.
That could happen regardless of the current military situation, he noted, as many of the planes used by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines are reaching the waning days of their life span of 30 to 40 years.
He expects the 727-sized planes to remain popular with the United States military and other nations' militaries for some time because of the C-130's versatility.
In addition to conveniently being able to drop cargo out its tail during flight, the C-130 can drop troops at low altitudes, refuel other planes, transport large cargo such as trucks or serve as a flying hospital.
"Whenever you see things being loaded on the back of an airplane, with all the materials on pallets, it's typically a C-130," Clark said.
It is sometimes used as a gunship, Clark added. The guns are all located on one side of the plane and it circles a target area at sharp angles, raining down bullets.
In the plane's most glamorous role, a pincher-like arm can extend out the tail to snatch a balloon cable released by a comrade downed on land or sea.
The local Lockheed Martin plant may also be working on the military's new Joint-Strike Fighter at some point. The parent company recently secured the $200 billion contract for the plane, and Clark hopes at least some components will be manufactured locally.
Regional Editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.