November 20, 2007:
A U.S. Air
Force recently retired a 44 year old C-130 transport [PHOTO], 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. The
44 year old C-130 was shot up pretty bad in Vietnam, requiring both wings and
all four engines to be replaced. Another element of luck is how many, or few,
"high stress" (heavy load, rough weather) flights it undertakes. 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 , 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
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