Synopsis: On a secret mission to rescue 52 hostages in Iran, Operation Credible Sport was created. The project consisted of a modified Lockheed C-130 Hercules and developed so that it would be able to land on a runway as short as a football field. In order to shorten the landing distance, the engineers retrofit the planes with rockets. These rockets slow the planes as it lands and provide extra propulsion upon take-off.
During training in October 1980, just days before the surgical operation, "Operation Credible Sport" derailed.As the plane came in for landing, the pilot mistakenly fired the rocket before the wheels touch-down. The plane loses lift and slams in the tarmac.

For illustration purposes, here is a short video summarizing the event: Credible Sport Test YMC 130 H

Now, technology has come a long way since the 80's; avionics have greatly improved and the aviation industry even came up with the fastest transistor ever-created in 2009 thanks to Northrop Grumman.

That being said, would it be possible to revive this project and allow an automatic firing of the rockets by a computer system rather than by a manual control of the pilots(given that it was human factor that doomed it to failure in the beginning)?


2 Answers 2


It wasn't a lack of technology. The technology to automatically fire the rockets is not actually very complicated: a radar altimeter, airspeed data and maybe input from the landing gear load sensors hooked up to a simple computer. All of that existed back then, and the rocket system was in fact computerized:

The Lockheed test crew then assessed that the computer used to command the firing of the rockets during the landing sequence needed further calibration, and elected to manually input commands.

So the plan was to use computer control, but it needed more development than they had time for - as were in a very big hurry they decided to do it by hand.

If they'd had more time to adjust things they no doubt would have succeeded with the technology of the time. The reason that the project was canceled was not a lack of technology but that the hostages were released.

In reality the plan to use rockets to slow down the airplane so quickly was extremely risky, and if it went wrong the US military would have had their best special forces units stuck in the middle of Tehran! I personally don't think this would have gone ahead even if the tests had been successful. The fact that they continued to develop the concept into the MC-130 Combat Talon II without the rockets indicates to me that the military thought the braking rockets part of it wasn't worth it.

So no, modern avionics really would have nothing to do with it.

  • $\begingroup$ I was not aware that it was indeed time and not technology that made the decision to control the plane manually. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2020 at 14:11

Sure, you could, but for that kind of mission these days there are far better choices. For instance, a Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey could be used for such a mission, is rack ready now, far easier to control during takeoff and landing, and makes use of modern avionics and mission systems.

  • $\begingroup$ The V-22 actually wouldn't work for that mission. It has an effective combat radius of about 680km, and the route they would have to have taken to avoid air defenses would have been greater than that. In any case it wasn't a lack of avionics that caused the concept to fail. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Feb 15, 2020 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ It was indeed the Iran hostage crisis which largely spurred the v-22 development. Up until then, tiltrotors and tiltwings had been little more than a cute idea but not deemed really practical. But after the failure of the hostage rescue, the US DoD decided that they really did need a high-speed VTOL. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2020 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @GdD Not necessarily. If a friendly nation like say Turkey allowed us to conduct mid air refueling over their territory, that mission is easily possible. And, if you’re really committed to such a mission, the use of additional SEAD/DEAD packages could be utilized to clear a path. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2020 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Even being able to refuel over Turkey wouldn't have been sufficient @CarloFelicione. A rescue mission would require surprise, they would have to do low-level penetration evading air defenses, which would eat up fuel. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Feb 15, 2020 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @GdD: this seems like a difficulty that could be dealt with. You could use several aircraft for the mission, some would have the sole purpose of re-fueling the main VTOL. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2020 at 1:26

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