No announcement yet.

C-130 Airlifter

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • C-130 Airlifter

    Loren Thompson Contributor

    Logistics & Transportation 8/04/2014 @ 11:31AM 25,155 views

    C-130 Airlifter: The Most Successful Military Aircraft Ever

    Later this year, the U.S. Air Force will do something unprecedented. It will sign a contract to purchase more tactical airlifters from a program that first began turning out planes 60 years ago. The latest version of the plane is called the C-130J Super Hercules, and if you measure success in the military aircraft business by how many users a plane has, how many missions it performs, or how long it has been in continuous production, then Hercules is hands down the most successful military aircraft ever. This month marks the 60th anniversary of the plane’s first flight on August 23, 1954.

    How long ago was that? Most of the music being sold in the U.S. back then consisted of 78 R.P.M. records. A majority of residential phones were on “party lines,” meaning your neighbor could listen in on your calls. There were only three television networks that mattered, and they broadcast exclusively in black-and-white. Microwave ovens cost thousands of dollars — tens of thousands in today’s dollars — and you couldn’t get a deal on one at WalMart because WalMart didn’t exist. The Worldwide Web would not appear for another 40 years.

    The idea that an Air Force contract awarded during the Truman Administration — on July 2, 1951 — could lead to a plane that not only is still in production today, but in high demand around the world, is simply incredible. But it’s true: there are 2,000 C-130s of various vintages and configurations currently in use, and prime-contractor Lockheed Martin LMT +0.3% keeps finding new uses for the plane (the latest versions are for maritime patrol and commercial operations). All of the U.S. armed forces including the Coast Guard depend on Hercules, as do the vast majority of militaries in the Western Hemisphere, Southeast Asia, Western Europe and Arabia.

    (Disclosure: Lockheed Martin contributes to my think tank and is a consulting client.)

    Two things have made Hercules unique. First, it was conceived as a rugged, versatile airlifter that could meet the transport needs of diverse users by landing almost anywhere with 20 tons of cargo. Second, the Air Force and Lockheed continuously invested in new technology to improve the plane’s performance for six straight decades. So over time it became more than just a mover of people and things — it became an aerial refueler for the Marine Corps, a covert insertion/extraction asset for Air Force special operators, a search-and-rescue plane for the Coast Guard (as featured in The Perfect Storm), a gunship for supporting soldiers on the ground, and a hurricane hunter for the Weather Service.

    A C-130J Super Hercules flies at the 2014 Duxford D-Day Show. Over a dozen foreign countries have purchased the latest “J” variant, including Australia, Canada, India, Israel, South Korea and the United Kingdom. (Photo credit: Airwolfhound)

    Seriously, the plane seems capable of doing almost anything. It resupplies bases in Antarctica using skis as landing gear. It conducts harrowing medical evacuations in the hot and dusty climate of Afghanistan. It flies at treetop level to drop flame retardants on forest fires in national parks. It has even been used to deliver “shock and awe” munitions against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — weapons so big that they wouldn’t fit on the planes in the U.S. bomber fleet. All of these missions have been accomplished while sustaining one of the lowest accident rates of any U.S. military aircraft.

    The latest version of the C-130, the Super Hercules or “J” variant, is emblematic of the continuous improvement philosophy that has made the airframe so successful. With a cruising speed of 400 miles per hour and an unrefueled reach sufficient to fly from New York to San Francisco, Super Hercules provides a 40% gain in range over previous variants, a 20% gain in maximum speed, and needs only 60% of the runway distance to get airborne. It climbs faster and flies higher — even though superficially it looks very much like those earlier planes. The most obvious external difference is the use of new Allison engines with six all-composite blades per engine, a key factor in enhancing the plane’s performance and fuel efficiency.

    Super Hercules also is equipped with integrated defensive countermeasures, the latest navigational aids, state-of-the-art displays, and a host of other technological upgrades. But therein lies an important management question for the Air Force. Most of the 400+ C-130s in its fleet lack the sophistication of the Super Hercules, and even with the 71 additional “J” variants the service plans to procure over the period 2015-2020, it will be a long time before the fleet is fully recapitalized. So what should the service do to keep its aging Hercules fleet airworthy as flight standards for civil air space become more demanding? In general, the oldest planes are the ones most likely to be operating in U.S. skies, because they belong to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units that have been assigned domestic missions such as disaster relief.

    The service had planned to upgrade on-board electronic systems with a “C-130 Avionics Modernization Program” when the new millennium dawned, but as often happens when old aircraft are torn open, that proved to be harder than expected. So now it wants to fund a less costly effort that will just keep the legacy fleet safe to fly until it can be replaced by the newer Super Hercules. Some members of Congress don’t like that idea, because they fear foregoing the existing upgrade program will endanger reserve units in or near their districts. However, the oldest planes in those units are becoming too decrepit to fly, and the C-130 AMP program doesn’t address any of the top-ten drivers of maintenance costs in the legacy fleet.

    In fact, some studies indicate that the current upgrade program would only improve mission readiness by a paltry 1% — at a cost of over $10 million per plane. So given budget constraints, the Air Force has concluded it needs to scale back the upgrades and forge ahead with buying replacement aircraft. Studies by the Institute for Defense Analysis and Government Accountability Office — federally funded think tanks — have confirmed the Air Force’s view that cheaper solutions to the electronic needs of the legacy fleet are available. That doesn’t seem to have fazed some legislators, though, who seem more concerned about jobs in their districts than the military utility of the planes. There is a legislative proposal pending to block changes in the AMP effort.

    This seems to be a typical example of how narrow-gauge political agendas interfere with military modernization and readiness. The C-130 didn’t become the most successful military aircraft in history as a result of congressional micro-management. It remained relevant over six decades because the Air Force had the resources and discretion to keep its tactical airlift fleet current. Spending billions of dollars to patch up aging aircraft when a low-cost, more capable replacement is readily available makes no operational sense — especially at a time when defense spending is capped by law. If Congress wants to lift the caps, that’s another matter; but if it limits both the availability of funds and the efficiency with which funds can be spent, it will undermine the value of a legendary aircraft.

    BTW, a couple of many interesting stories;
    During the 1975 Fall of Saigon, Nguyen -- then serving in the South Vietnamese air force -- escaped on the last C-130 out of Vietnam. During a lull in enemy fire, he emerged from a bunker at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to see the last flyable C-130 stopping and going on the taxiway.
    The aircraft’s rear ramp was still open, apparently weighed down by the crowd of people standing on it.
    “Every time (the pilot) jammed on the brake, it pushed the passengers forward,” Nguyen recalled. “It created more space in the back… So, I jumped in. Everybody jumped in. And a few minutes after that, the ramp door closed and we taxied out and departed.”
    The plane landed safely at a U.S. air base in Thailand. Nguyen said the American soldiers there were visibly surprised as they watched 452 people disembark from a single plane.
    Nguyen came to the U.S. as a refugee. He learned English and worked full-time to put himself through college.
    He earned an engineering degree with the goal of working for the manufacturer of the aircraft that brought him to freedom. Lockheed Martin hired him in 1983.
    “I felt like a child who finally gets the toy,” Nguyen said. “I crawled all over the airplane. I walked everywhere, tried to learn every piece of it… I’m still doing it now.”
    Nguyen leads the development of defensive systems for the C-130 -- protecting the aircraft that once protected him.
    He and the plane share another thing in common. Nguyen was celebrating his fourth birthday on the date the C-130 made its first flight: August 23, 1954.
    “I don’t know if that’s something the old man up there set up or what,” Nguyen joked.

    On June 27, 1976, four terrorists forced an Air France Airbus 300 to divert from its scheduled Athens to Paris route and land at Entebbe, Uganda, the home of dictator Idi Amin. Joined there by more terrorists, the hijackers demanded that Israel free fifty-three convicted terrorists in exchange for the 105 Jewish and Israeli hostages that they held. They released the French air crew and non-Jewish passengers.

    Israel had always refused to negotiate with terrorists, but agreed to enter negotiations to gain time to prepare a military counter-stroke. That counterstroke involved flying for seven hours in three C-130s, landing on a potentially hostile airport, drive to the air line terminal and kill all the terrorists while protecting the hostages.

    The lead C-130 carried two jeeps and an exact copy of Amin’s black Mercedes. The other two C-130s carried the rest of the 200 crack troops assigned to rescue the hostages and destroy the MiGs parked on the airport so that they could not pursue and attack the C-130s on their homeward flight.

    The C-130s landed at Entebbe at 23:01, local time, freeing the hostages in a swift attack that killed eight kidnappers. The force commander, Yoni Netanyahu, was killed by friendly fire, as were two hostages. Fifty-eight minutes after landing, the C-130s took off for a successful flight home.


  • #2
    Most successful:
    C-130 vs. DC-3 ... ROUND 1 -- FIGHT!


    • fleetlordatvar
      fleetlordatvar commented
      Editing a comment
      ?? Is there a rivalry between the two fans of the AC?

    • foundation
      foundation commented
      Editing a comment
      not that I know of but there's another thread on this forum talking about the most successful jetliner, and the post makes an aside that hands down most successful civil propliner is the DC-3, and this sort of proclaims the C-130 is most successful military plane so I figured they should vie for most success propliner

    • fleetlordatvar
      fleetlordatvar commented
      Editing a comment
      I understand....

Bottom Ad