Charlie-one-thirty is thirty
Hugo Mambour & Vincent Pirard/AviaScribe report on the 30th anniversary of the Belgian Air Force Hercules
On 28 and 29 September, the Air Component of the Belgian Armed Forces (formerly Belgian Air Force) celebrated 30 years of service of its tactical transport aircraft, the Lockheed C-130H Hercules. It was on 25 July 1972 that the first C-130H, registered CH-01, landed at Melsbroek airbase direct from Dobbins AFB. It was the first aircraft of a series of twelve, the purchase of which had been decided one year earlier.
Officially delivered after a brief sojourn at the workshops of British firm Marshalls in Cambridge, where they were camouflaged according to the requirements of the time, all aircraft were delivered to the 15th Wing between September 1972 and June 1973. For the transport wing of the Belgian Air Force, the arrival of these large transport aircraft meant, on one hand, the withdrawal of their predecessors, some twenty Fairchild C-119G Flying Boxcar, and, on the other, the reduction from two tactical transport units to one. While 40 Squadron 'Green Sioux' was disbanded, 20 Squadron 'Blue Sioux' took the new aircraft on charge.
Equipped with advanced navigation systems, able to carry a load of approximately 20 tons over a distance of 3,950 kilometres and operate from semi-prepared runways, Belgian C-130s very quickly gave honour to the name of Hercules. To date, Belgian C-130s have accumulated a total of some 145,000 flight hours, principally carried out for the benefit of military missions (dropping of parachutists, transport of troops and material) as well as participating in many humanitarian missions within the framework of their remit.
Operating in many countries including Romania, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Algeria and Iraqi Kurdistan, the crews created history in these often-hostile grounds and acquired experience internationally recognised in the very particular field of transport and the dropping of the humanitarian aid. Modernised at the end of the Eighties - a program during which the aircraft were equipped with upgraded avionics and navigation systems while the original tactical camouflage was changed to the current grey scheme - Belgian Hercules will no doubt celebrate their fortieth anniversary under the black, yellow and red cockade, as their replacement is not expected before 2012-2015. At this time (and if the program of the new European transport aircraft follows its course) a batch of seven Airbus A400Ms should succeed the Hercules.
The only shadow in 30 years of service was the lost of CH-06 at Eindhoven in the Netherlands on 15 July 1996 at the end of a routine flight. Due to a massive bird strike, the accident resulted the death of the thirty-two Dutch passengers and the Belgian crew.