C-130J Super Hercules Celebrates One Million Flight Hours

By Jeff Rhodes Posted 11 August 2014

The worldwide community of C-130J Super Hercules operators surpassed the one million flight hour milestone in late April 2013. The million hour mark came slightly more than seventeen years after Lockheed Martin test pilots Lyle Schaefer and Bob Price took the first J-model aloft for the first time on 5 April 1996 from Dobbins ARB in Marietta, Georgia. That aircraft, an extended fuselage length Super Hercules, was delivered to the Royal Air Force after testing was completed.

The million hours came from crews flying in the 290 C-130J aircraft delivered or in test at the time to thirteen countries in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. The milestone represents flight test, production readiness, and operational flight hours. Roughly eighty percent of those hours are operational, and include combat flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also include worldwide humanitarian relief flights after Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) in the US and after tsunamis in the Indian Ocean (2004) and in Japan (2011).

Hours were tracked from the first flight, but the actual aircraft to record the millionth hour and the date it was flown is difficult to determine, as multiple aircraft are airborne at any given time every day and flight hour totals aren’t always reported in real time.

Production of the C-130J continues at the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, Georgia, which has been the home of the Hercules since 1954. The production line, located in the plant’s 3.8-million-square-foot main assembly hall (known as Building B-1), was extensively renovated in 1995 specifically to build the C-130J more efficiently.

The production line is sized to accommodate production of up to thirty-six aircraft annually, although sales and delivery schedules have not required manufacture of more than thirty-four C-130Js in any one year. That peak production mark came in 2012. Assembly of about twenty-four aircraft per year is optimum.

The year 2014 marks not only the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the C-130 (23 August 1954), but also the start of the seventh decade of Hercules production, the longest continuous, active military aircraft line in history. That span covers more than half of the history of powered flight.

Over its production run, the Hercules has been produced in four major variants—C-130A, B, H, and J. A total of 231 C-130As, 491 C-130Es, and 1,202 C-130Hs have come off the line in Marietta.

The 300th C-130J, an MC-130J Commando II Special Operations airlifter, was delivered in December 2013. Deliveries to Kuwait and the Republic of Korea—the fourteenth and fifteenth countries to fly the Super Hercules—occurred in 2014, as did the in-country delivery of the first Israeli C-130J.

Countries with C-130Js contributing to the one million flight hours are (in order of delivery) United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Canada, India, Qatar, Oman, Iraq, Tunisia, and Israel (the Israeli Air Force's first aircraft was in acceptance testing at the time). In the US, C-130Js are flown by Air Force, Air Force Reserve Command, Air National Guard, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard units.

The Super Hercules
The C-130J Super Hercules is produced in two basic fuselage versions, standard and extended length. The standard fuselage aircraft is ninety-seven feet nine inches long and is used primarily for aerial tankers, personnel recovery/search and rescue, and Special Operations aircraft, although there are a few exceptions. The extended fuselage aircraft, also known as a stretch, has an additional fuselage segment forward and one aft of the wing and is 112 feet nine inches long. This version, sometimes referred to as a C-130J-30, can accommodate up to eight standard eighty-eight inch by 108 inch 463L pallets. The stretch version is used primarily for cargo delivery, airdrop, personnel transport, and paratroop missions.

All C-130Js are equipped with a fully digital flight deck, including head-up displays. The combat delivery C-130Js can operate with a crew of three—pilot, copilot, and loadmaster, although many times a second loadmaster is carried. The navigator in the legacy C-130s (C-130B, E, and H) is replaced by a dual inertial GPS/INS system and the need for a flight engineer is alleviated though a sophisticated computer system. Tanker and Special Operations variants operate with additional crewmembers.

The Super Hercules is powered by 4,637 shp Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 engines mated with a six-bladed Dowty R391 propeller with aerodynamically efficient scimitar-shaped blades. The combination of powerplant and propeller enables Super Hercules crews to fly longer range and carry more cargo, plus provides significantly reduced fuel burn.

Nearly 2,450 C-130s of all models have been delivered to sixty-three countries around the world since 1955, but the C-130 has flown under the flags of more than seventy countries when secondary sales, transfers, and commercial ownership are considered. The Hercules is currently flown under the flags of seventy nations.

The J Family
Since its service introduction in 1999, seven variants of the C-130J have come off the assembly line, with five versions in production as of September 2013. Two additional C-130J variants are the result of modifications. The production line has been set up to allow concurrent production of multiple variants.

The following are the C-130J variants that have been built, are currently in production, or are in development.

C-130J Super Hercules
This is the basic combat delivery/paratroop airlifter. Most of the combat delivery aircraft are the extended fuselage length aircraft. Many worldwide operators have opted for the Enhanced Cargo Handling System, or ECHS, which allows for rapid conversion from palletized loads to tie-down loads such as vehicles. This version also features an embedded tow winch in the cargo compartment and a ramp and cargo door outfitted for airdrops at 250 knots.

EC-130J Commando Solo II
Commando Solo is a specialized J-model variant flown by the 193rd Special Operations Squadron, the US Air National Guard unit at Harrisburg International Airport, Pennsylvania. Recognizable by its tail-mounted and underwing antennas, the EC-130J contains high-powered AM/FM radio and TV broadcast equipment for psychological warfare operations. Seven aircraft were modified with five aircraft receiving the psyops mission equipment. Operations with the Commando Solo II began in 2004.

HC-130J Super Hercules
The HC-130J is the long-range search and rescue variant flown by the US Coast Guard. The aircraft’s system includes automatic identification and direction-finding capabilities; long range, multimode radar; electro-optical and infrared, or EO/IR, sensor turret that provides both imagery and target data; advanced open architecture mission system processor; and an extensive communications suite. The six HC-130Js are based at CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The Coast Guard HC-130Js were declared operational in 2008. Three additional HC-130Js are on order, and the first aircraft is expected to be delivered in 2015.

KC-130J Super Hercules
The standard J-model tanker is the KC-130J for the US Marine Corps and for the Italian Air Force. These tankers, which have replaced the KC-130F/R/T in the active-duty Marine inventory, have a 57,500 pound fuel offload capacity. The first KC-130J combat deployment came in 2005. The Marines currently have forty-six KC-130Js. Operational aircraft are assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 (VMGR-252) at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina; VMGR-352 at MCAS Miramar, California; and VMGR-152 at MCAS Futenma, Japan. VMGR-234, the Marine Reserve squadron at NAS Fort Worth JRB, Texas, received its first KC-130J in March 2014.

The Marine Corps also operates KC-130Js that have been modified to the Harvest HAWK, or Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit, configuration. This roll-on, roll-off modification (EO/IR sensor, quad-mount AGM-114 Hellfire missile launcher, internal AGM-176 Griffin missile launch tubes with ten missiles, and an internal computer control console) has been used to great effect in the armed surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance, or ISR, role in Afghanistan. Harvest HAWK-equipped aircraft are based at Cherry Point and Miramar. Six Harvest HAWK mission kits were produced for operations while four additional aircraft were modified to accept the kit to provide additional capability.

WC-130J Weatherbird
Ten C-130Js were modified on the assembly line to the WC-130J configuration. These aircraft, assigned to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, are designed to fly into hurricanes and tropical storms to track and monitor storm conditions and movement on missions lasting twelve hours or longer. The Hurricane Hunters began operations with the WC-130J in 2003.

HC/MC-130J Special Mission Tanker
The HC-130J Combat King II and MC-130J Commando II are currently built as a common configuration, although the MC-130J, through upgrades and modifications, will eventually become a separate configuration. These aircraft currently support US Air Force mission requirements as they come off of the production line with no post-production modifications required. 

The HC-130J Combat King II is Air Combat Command’s dedicated fixed wing personnel recovery platform It is deployed to austere airfields and denied territory for expeditionary, all weather personnel recovery operations to include airdrop, airland, helicopter air-to-air refueling, and forward area ground refueling missions. Deliveries began in 2011. Operational Combat King II aircraft are currently assigned to the 79th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and the 71st RQS at Moody AFB, Georgia. The 415th Special Operations Squadron at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, the US Air Force’s Special Operations training unit, also operates HC-130Js.

The MC-130J Commando II version will replace the US Air Force Special Operations Command’s older MC-130N/P Combat Shadow fleet. The MC-130J is flown on clandestine, or low visibility, single and multi-ship low-level air refueling missions supporting special operations helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft, as well as infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of Special Operations Forces by airdrop or airland in politically sensitive or hostile territories. Delivery to the first operational unit, the 522nd Special Operations Squadron at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, occurred in 2011. The 415th SOS at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, the US Air Force’s Special Operations training unit, also operates MC-130Js.

Some MC-130Js will be modified off the assembly line to the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship configuration. The AC-130J will inherit the precision strike package from the AC-130W Stinger II. The precision strike package, developed to support ground forces in overseas contingency operations, includes dual electro-optical infrared sensors, 30mm cannon, AGM-175 Griffin missiles, and all-weather synthetic aperture radar. The package also gives the AC-130J the capability to release Small Diameter Bombs. The sensors allow the gunship crew to visually or electronically identify targets at any time, including in adverse weather. Current service plans call for sixteen MC-130Js to be converted into gunships. After more than a year of modification, the fisrt AC-130J was flown for the first time at Eglin AFB, Florida, on 31 January 2014.

Advanced Development
The proposed C-130XJ is a base model aircraft with J-model performance, but with lower acquisition cost, primarily through substituting less sophisticated equipment such as top-of-the line satellite communications. However, the XJ is designed to allow for installation of combat delivery, mission-specific equipment to be installed later as needed. The XJ is aimed at the export market.

The SC-130J Sea Hercules is a maritime patrol and long-range search and rescue aircraft. This J-model, currently under study, can be equipped with a range of equipment to allow crews to carry out such relatively straightforward missions as monitoring a coastline to firing standoff missiles or launching torpedoes.

LM-100J Freighter
Lockheed Martin officials submitted a Program Notification Letter to the US  Federal Aviation Administration on 21 January 2014 for a type design update for the Model L-382J transport, a civil-certified variant of the C-130J Super Hercules. This commercial variant will be marketed as the LM-100J. A total of 115 L-100s, the commercial variant of the first-generation C-130, were produced from 1964-1992. Many of those airlifters are still in service worldwide.

The Dublin, Ireland-based ASL Aviation Group signed a letter of intent for up to ten LM-100Js on 16 July 2014. The aircraft will be flown by SAFAIR, an ASL-associated company based at Johannesburg International Airport, South Africa and Air Contractors, also located in Dublin. 

Engineering and detailed design of the LM-100J is currently underway. Assembly of the first aircraft will begin in 2015 and first flight of the LM-100J is expected by early 2017. Because much of the flight test done to civil certify the C-130J in the late 1990s will be directly applicable to the LM-100J, testing and certification of the newest Hercules variant is expected to take about twelve months.

The United States is the largest operator of C-130Js with nearly 190 aircraft of all types.

US Air National Guard units flying the combat delivery C-130J variant are the 143rd Airlift Squadron, the Rhode Island Air National Guard unit at Quonset Point, and the 146th AS, the California Air National Guard squadron at Channel Islands ANGS. When activated by the US Forest Service, the 146th AW uses its C-130Js for aerial firefighting with the second generation Modular Aerial Firefighting System, or MAFFS 2.

The extended fuselage C-130J is also flown by the active duty 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein AB, Germany; 41st AS and 61st AS at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas; and 39th AS and 40th AS at Dyess AFB, Texas. Dyess, with twenty-eight assigned aircraft operates the largest C-130J fleet in the world. The 815th AS, the Air Force Reserve Command unit at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, flies the short fuselage C-130J.

Training for nearly all US and international C-130J aircrews and maintainers takes place at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. Instructors with the 48th Airlift Squadron at Little Rock are responsible for C-130J aircrew training.

Other US operators, such as the Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and US Special Operations Command fly other specific C-130J variants as noted above.

One US Air Force C-130J was destroyed on the ground after a hard landing in Afghanistan in 2013.

The United Kingdom was the launch customer for the C-130J. The first Royal Air Force aircraft was the first J-model to come off the assembly line (October 1995) and the first to get airborne (5 April 1996). The first RAF aircraft was delivered in 1998. The last of twenty-five (now twenty-four) stretch and short fuselage aircraft (called Hercules C. Mk. 4 and C. Mk. 5, officially) was delivered in 2000. The RAF C-130Js, used for combat delivery and special operations, are flown by crews from XXIV Squadron and 30 Squadron now at RAF Brize Norton near Cambridge. One RAF aircraft was destroyed on the ground after a landing mishap in 2007.

Italy received the first of twenty-two (now twenty-one) extended, short fuselage, and tanker J-models in 2000. Italy received the first C-130J receiver-tanker built, a tanker that can take on fuel itself. The Aeronautica Militare was the first air force to take the C-130J into combat in 2001. The Italian aircraft are assigned to the 46th Air Brigade at Pisa AB. One aircraft was lost in a training accident in 2009.

Denmark has four stretch combat delivery C-130Js assigned to Eskadrille 721 at Aalborg AB in northern Jutland. Royal Danish Air Force operations with the C-130J began in 2004.

Australia has a fleet of twelve long fuselage combat delivery C-130Js flown by 37 Squadron at RAAF Richmond, near Sydney. The Royal Australian Air Force, which had flown the C-130B, E, and H models, began operations with the C-130J in 1999.

Norway has a fleet of four long fuselage combat delivery C-130Js flown by 335 Squadron at Gardermoen AS, outside Oslo. Operations with the C-130J began in 2008. The Royal Norwegian Air Force named its C-130Js after Norse goddesses—Frigg, Idunn, Nanna, and Siv (which was lost in a mishap in 2012). A C-130J intended for delivery to the US Air Force was transferred to RNoAF in 2012. That aircraft is named Frøya.

Canada has a fleet of seventeen long fuselage combat delivery C-130Js—designated CC-130J by the Royal Canadian Air Force—flown by 436 Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario. Operations began in 2010. The C-130J is a contender in the RCAF’s upcoming replacement search and rescue aircraft competition.

India has a fleet of six combat delivery C-130Js operated by 77 Squadron at Hindan AFS, near Delhi. These aircraft are also fitted with an EO/IR sensor and can be used on Special Operations missions. The Indian Air Force began C-130J operations in 2011. One aircraft was lost in a training mishap in 2014.

Among Middle East countries, Qatar has a fleet of four combat delivery C-130Js operated from Doha International Airport. Operations with the C-130J began in 2012; Oman received one C-130J for its Royal Flight in 2012, and that aircraft is based in Muscat; two additional combat delivery support aircraft were delivered in 2014 to the Royal Air Force of Oman. Iraq received six combat delivery C-130Js in 2013 that are flown by the 23rd Transport Squadron at New Al Muthana AB; and Kuwait has three KC-130J tanker aircraft that were delivered in 2014. In Africa, Tunisia received the first of two combat delivery C-130Js in 2013, and operations by 21 Squadron at El-Aouina in Tunis have begun.

Israel formally received its first extended length C-130J in 2013, and after Israeli-specific modifications, was delivered in-country in 2014. The Israeli aircraft, which features an EO/IR turret under the nose, in addition to other special equipment, will be flown by 103 Squadron at Nevatim AB. The Israeli Air Force currently has three C-130Js on order.

The Republic of Korea Air Force received four combat delivery C-130Js in 2014. The aircraft are stationed at Gimhae AB in Pusan, South Korea.

NOTE: This is the updated version of an article that appeared in the Volume 29 Number 3 issue of Code One, and was originally published in September 2013.

Jeff Rhodes is the associate editor of Code One.
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