Air Transportation: They Fly Forever


December 12,2008: A U.S. Air Force C-130E recently passed the 30,000 hours (in the air) mark, the first time this has happened. This aircraft is expected to fly for another two years, and spend another 1,500 hours in the air. This C-130 has undergone seven refurbishments since it entered service in the 1960s. Currently, nearly all the 491 C-130Es built are still flying. Last year, the air force retired a 44 year old C-130, that had spent 29,500 hours in the air.

On average, C-130s last about 25 years, and about 20,000 hours in the air. But averages are just that, and some aircraft get lucky. If an aircraft has relatively few, "high stress" (heavy load, rough weather) flights,  it will fly longer. The key component in C-130 longevity is the center wing box. This component takes the most punishment, and if it suffers corrosion, as well as enough stress to cause metal fatigue, it usually means the useful life of the aircraft is over.

The C-130 has been in service 51 years. So far, 2,262 have been built, and it is still in production. That is unprecedented. Several other military aircraft remained in service over half a century (the British Canberra, U.S. B-52, the Russian Tu-95, AN-2, and the U.S. DC-3). But no other aircraft has remained in production for so long.

Originally, the C-130 was designed to carry 15 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, a range of over 12,000 kilometers, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 is used by more than 50 countries.

When retired, U.S. military aircraft usually end up at a storage yard in the dry southwest, where the aircraft can be cannibalized for spare parts, until the remaining bits are sold for scrap.




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