Forty-two years ago this month, on September 15, 1966, Delta launched the world’s first scheduled service of the all-cargo, turbo-prop Lockheed L-100 Hercules. It was the commercial version of the military C-130 Hercules, famous its ability to land on unimproved short strips, yet carry bulky loads and vehicles.
This photo of the rear of the boxy L-100 fuselage shows the loading system. Cargo pallet transporters, pulled in a train by a tug, were wisked from the Delta freight facility to the Hercules. The palletized freight was then moved over the roller bed surfaces of the transporters and the floor of the plane. Here, you see a T-shape option for complex loading/unloading where the pallets are moving from side position onto the main line of loading. According to Delta press releases from 1966, three men could unload and load a full Hercules–45,000 pounds–in less than 30 minutes.
The Hercules was suited to Delta’s relatively short haul, small shipment operation in the 1960s. With this plane, we offered the first single-carrier cargo service between California and the Southeast, filling a big gap between the aerospace industries in those regions.
When our first widebody passenger jets–the Boeing 747 and Douglas DC-10–arrived with their speed and large underfloor “belly bin” capacity, we did not need a fleet of specialized cargo aircraft any longer. Delta’s last L-100 flight operated thirty-five years ago this month, on September 1, 1973.