Air Transportation: Hercules In The Desert

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August 28, 2010:  The Oman Air Force has ordered two more American C-130J "Hercules" transports, as well as a European A320 (a 78 ton aircraft similar to the Boeing 737). Last year, Oman ordered a C-130J-30, the extra long (stretched) model. Oman already has the three C-130Hs, which it purchased nearly three decades ago, and which are still in use. Oman wants more C-130s because they are effective at using unpaved airstrips out in the desert, as well as being rugged, reliable and capacious.

Eleven other foreign countries have ordered C-130Js. This includes the U.S. Air Force, which is buying 172 C-130Js, to replace its 200 worn out C-130Es. Thus the C-130 continues to thrive after over half a century, because they are a reliable and inexpensive way to move cargo to improvised airfields. The C-130J has proved to be more than just another model in the fifty year old C-130 design. Mainly because it's cheaper and easier to operate. Like most new commercial transports, the C-130J emphasizes cutting operating expenses. The new engines generate 29 percent more thrust while using 15 percent less fuel. Increased automation reduced crew size from four to three. The C-130J is more reliable and easier to maintain. And this isn't all predictions. So far, C-130Js have cost nearly twenty percent less per hour than previous models.

The most common version of the C-130 still in service is the C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C-130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The stretched C-130J-30 can carry more bulky cargo, and goes for about $100 million each.  The C-130 has been in service for over half a century, and has been in service of over 50 countries.

The manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, used a billion dollars of its own money to develop the C-130J, which ended up costing much more than the previous model, C-130H. While the C-130J has better performance than the C-130H, and cheaper to operate, the air force is still going to upgrade and refurbish several hundred older C-130s, mainly by replacing the center portion (the wing box), which is most prone to fatigue, and installing new electronics (which makes the aircraft cheaper to operate and maintain.) But with over 1,200 older C-130s in service, many are simply too expensive to repair and upgrade, so sales of the C-130J will continue to climb.

 

 


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