By Mike Kerr
The first of twenty-five new Hercules C130J transport aircraft was handed over to the RAF at Lyneham on 23rd November, 1999. A ceremony took place inside one of Lyneham's main hangars with C130J ZH878 and a predecessor C130K XV207 forming a backdrop to the proceedings, during which the first new aeroplane, ZH875, was handed over by the President of Lockheed Martin Aerospace Company, Tom Burbage to Air Vice Marshal Philip Sturley, Air Officer Commanding 38 Group, Strike Command. Also present were Ian Fawcett, Executive Director Defence Procurement Agency and Lyneham's Station Commander, Group Captain Jeff Bullen. The presence of XV207 was notable in that this particular airframe was the first to be handed back to Lockheed Martin under the replacement programme. After the log-book for ZH875 had been handed over, the proceedings moved outside for photographs and a flypast, in which ZH875, flown by a Lockheed Martin crew, flew in across the airfield with C-130K XV199, piloted by Flt Lt John Clancy of 24 Squadron.
Much more than a re-worked C130, the 'J has an all-new airframe; known as the Hercules C4 in RAF service, it is outwardly similar to the old models, incorporating extensive modifications including a state-of-the-art 'glass' cockpit with Head-Up Displays (HUD) for both the pilot and co-pilot, new engines with distinctive curved six-bladed propellers, and fully integrated avionics. For the RAF, the 'J is powered by four Allison AE2100D3 engines, each producing 4,600 shp and connected to a new technology six-bladed Dowty propeller, enabling a shorter take-off than previously enjoyed by the 'K with a rapid climb to operational altitude in high risk environments. The new engines provide 29% more thrust, whilst achieving a 15% saving in fuel compared to the old ones fitted to previous models. Conspicuous by its absence on ZH875 was the in-flight refuelling probe, although the attachment point could be clearly seen offset to the port, rather than the 'K's centrally mounted position.
A reduction in crew to just pilot and co-pilot has obvious implications for budding navigators/flight engineers, but the all-new cockpit enables all functions to be checked and monitored by the two crew members. In addition to two holographic head-up displays, the 'J has four multi-functional head-down LCD displays which are Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS) compatible, enabling the crew to operate in total darkness for Special Operations. Two mission computers and two bus interface units provide dual redundancy for the various systems, including its power-by-wire one for the engines and propellers. These computers also provide for an integrated diagnostics system to advise the crew of the status of each individual system within the aircraft. A much improved navigation system will help crews deliver those important air-drops with greater accuracy and combined with the savings from the fuel-efficient engines will help to significantly lower operating costs. The spacious looking cockpit has a further two seats with a sleeping bunk above, plus the essential tea & coffee machine and microwave oven.
Part of the contract with Lockheed-Martin provides for a purpose-built training facility at Lyneham, including two of the very latest in technology flight simulators. This building is already operational and is being used to train the instructor pilots ready to convert the current crews at Lyneham onto the new C130. This will enable nearly all pilot training to be carried out on the ground.
Deliveries of the remaining twenty-four airframes should be completed by mid-2001. Replacement of the remaining C130K airframes is to be decided early next year with contenders being further C130Js, the Airbus A400M (FLA) and Boeing C17 Globemaster IIIs. The C130Js currently on order replace the 'Ks on a one-for-one basis, which will leave twenty-nine 'Ks in service after 2001. They will undertake a modification programme to extend their service life whilst awaiting the decision on their replacement. Sixty-six 'Ks were originally ordered for the RAF in the early 1960's as a main tactical transport, replacing the Argosy and Beverley, and since 1976 the entire fleet has been based at Lyneham. It has provided essential support to military operations in places as diverse as Belize, Cyprus, Africa, the Falklands, the Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo and, most recently, in East Timor. The RAF Hercules fleet has also carried out essential humanitarian aid missions in such places as Ethiopia, Kurdistan and Somalia, delivering aid to refugees and communities affected by natural disaster. Six have been lost in incidents, but this is not a bad record given its length of service. Five were converted into Air-to-Air refuelling tankers, and one converted into a weather research aircraft (designated C130W), being located at Boscombe Down.
24 Squadron will have the honour of being the first unit to be fully equipped with the 'J, the crews being trained by the instructor pilots of 57(R) Squadron, the Hercules OCU. These instructors were initially trained in the United States, together with RAF Engineers, and will only work on the new model due to the vast differences in systems and equipment. 24 Squadron should cease operating the 'K in May 2000, ending a thirty-two year association. It is ironic that the replacement for the venerable Hercules is another one, albeit much improved, ensuring a familiar shape will fly well into the twenty-first century.