Aircraft Flight Testing

The low-level fly-overs you've seen may be C-130 training flights, perhaps being performed by a local Air National Guard unit. Similar training missions are common at other C-130 bases where units train for low-level flights and rough-field landings like those they are likely to perform in combat.

Another possible explanation is that the aircraft might be flight test vehicles operating from the Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) based in Tullahoma. AEDC is a major US Air Force research facility that develops and tests new technologies for military applications. Military aircraft flying low-level orbits are a common site at R&D or flight testing facilities. These test aircraft often operate at low altitudes since their flights are typically short and the aircraft may need to land frequently for equipment to be adjusted, replaced, or debugged. In addition, communications or tracking issues may require aircraft to fly at lower altitudes than you might normally expect.

The C-130 is a logical testbed since the Air Force has a large inventory of them, they are relatively cheap to operate, and they possess large internal volume and external surface area for test equipment to be carried.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 13 May 2001

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