Friday, November 18, 2011

Video Del Fuego, Part XLIX

On November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students (possibly with the backing of the revolutionary government, possibly not) took over the United States Embassy in Tehran. The Americans were held hostage for 444 days, until January 20, 1981. During their captivity, there were at least two plans made for a rescue. One is well known, the other less so.

The one that just about everyone's heard of is Operation Eagle Claw. Eagle Claw was a complex operation, involving eight RH-53 helicopters and four C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, three of which were carrying fuel for the return trip. It required close cooperation between elements from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. It also required a bit of luck with weather. The close cooperation worked tolerably well enough. The weather ... didn't. Eagle Claw ended in disaster when one of the helicopters collided with one of the tankers while they were preparing to abort the mission anyway, because they didn't have enough mechanically-fit helicopters to complete the mission.

But that wasn't the end of the matter. They had one more trick up their sleeve. One of the problems with Operation Eagle Claw was that it relied on too much coordination. They decided to simplify matters by using only one aircraft, staging the mission out of the continental United States, using multiple in-air re-fuelings on the way to Iran, and meeting up with a nearby aircraft carrier. The aircraft they chose was a C-130 Hercules, and they would land inside a soccer stadium close by the American Embassy.

"Now hold on a second," I hear you saying. "You can't actually do that." Well, not with a stock C-130, you can't. But this one? It's been modified. Ladies and gentlemen, behold Operation Credible Sport:

Yes, someone looked at a C-130 airframe and said, "You know what this thing needs? Rockets. A whole bunch of rockets." One set of rockets to soak up the high rate of descent. Another set of rockets to slow the beast down once you're on the deck. And a third set of rockets, to kick your butt back up skyward when it's time to leave. Oh yeah, this would have gotten the job done.

Except that, on the last test flight, some damn fool hit the switches out of sequence. Believe it or not, everyone made it out of there. With that much explodium on board, you'd better believe they had a fire truck close by.

But for that, the hostages might have been home by early November. As it was, on November 2, the Iranian parliament accepted an Algerian mediation plan, and a few days after that, Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid. The plan was shelved after that.

And by the way: landing a C-130 on a carrier was the least crazy part of this plan. It had been done before, in 1963.

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