50 Years of Hercules
As utilitarian as a bucket and just as plain, Lockheed's C-130 has flown almost everything to almost everywhere.
- By Carl Posey
- Air & Space magazine, September 2004
Saul McSween/U.S. Navy
(Page 4 of 5)
Klopper continues: “We fly 10 hours a day, first light to last light. We refuel the airplane as it’s being reloaded. Turnaround time is about 15 to 20 minutes. If it wasn’t for the C-130s, a large number of people would have died.”
The airplane that the hungry or besieged or devastated listen for still rolls off the assembly line at Lockheed-Martin Aeronautical Systems’ Marietta plant, where all C-130s except the two prototypes were built. At age 50, the C-130 is the military airplane with the longest continuous production run in history. (Only Raytheon’s Beechcraft Bonanza has had a longer unbroken production run.) As you read this, Hercules no. 2,275—one of the new KC-130J tanker models—is emerging into the Georgia sunshine, bound for the U.S. Marine Corps. F/A-22 Raptors take shape in one quadrant of the building, but most of the space is used for the C-130 line, where 12 of the big transports are built a year.
The new C-130s look much as they always have: heavy shouldered, earnest, powerful. But the familiar exterior hides a much different airplane. The C-130J’s range is 50 percent greater than the A’s; gross weight has increased by 25 percent. And it is harder to shoot down, thanks to defensive sysems developed in part by Tim Nguyen, who once feared his overladen C-130A was too easy a target. As for available power, Lockheed chief pilot Bob Hill says, “If you took a guy and put him down in an A model after he’d been flying a J model, he’d think he didn’t have any engines.” The engines deliver nearly 30 percent more thrust than those on the H model. All told, the differences are substantial enough that Lockheed calls the J model the Super Hercules.
Internally, little remains of the airplane’s 1950s heritage. The design conceived in the non-digital past has been tailored for the new century. The tiny engine gauges are gone, replaced by liquid crystal displays, as are the flight engineer and navigator. One pilot flies, the other talks to the computers.
“Everything is monitored,” says Bob Hill. “The airplane tells the pilots every little thing that happens, in ascending grades of urgency. After both main computers fail, you’re still better equipped to make an instrument approach than the mid-run H model. When everything’s ticking right along, the GPS antenna is probably within eight feet of where it says it is.”
Hill, a Marietta native who started at Lockheed in 1951, demonstrates the Super Hercules to prospective buyers, showing them, for example, how one might haul a 38,000-pound tractor from La Paz to a 4,000-foot strip in the Bolivian Amazon, or how an Indian C-130J might drop 22,000 pounds of kerosene to troops in Kashmir’s mountains—after losing an engine on takeoff from a field 15,000 feet above sea level.
Already the Super Hercules seems to be everywhere. When British Prime Minister Tony Blair set foot in Basra in May 2003, it was from the ramp of a Royal Air Force C-130J. An Italian Super Herk took the exiled king of Afghanistan back to Kabul in April 2002. As for the future, there seems to be no competitor in sight. Most people believe the Hercules production line in Marietta will celebrate a diamond jubilee. Around U.S. Air Materiel Command, it’s said that when they fly the last McDonnell Douglas/Boeing C-17 transport to the boneyard—the last batch of which is slated for production in 2008—the crew will fly back aboard a Hercules.
Sidebar: Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules: 50 Years of Airlift Heritage
THE C-130J IS THE MOST RECENT AND ADVANCED version of Lockheed Martin’s legendary airlifter, which the company has sold to 60 nations. Designed around a crew of three through use of extensive digital automation, sensors, and mission-management systems, it is available in two versions, the J, with a 40-foot cabin, and the J-30, which has a 55-foot cargo hold that provides seats for up to 92 paratroopers and capacity for seven cargo pallets. It is fully night-mission-capable and can deliver cargo with pinpoint accuracy using its aerial delivery radar system and mission computers. The Super Hercules can refuel in the air and is delivered with an integrated defensive electronics system that senses and counters radar and infrared missiles with jamming and automatic chaff and flare dispensers. For more information, browse http://www.lmasc.lmco.com/busdev/airlift/c130/c130j.html