The legacy Hercules (serial NZ7003) was one first C-130Hs to arrive in New Zealand and completed its final flight in operational service on February 9, when it was flown from RNZAF Base Auckland, Whenuapai, to RNZAF Base Woodbourne, Blenheim, to be retired from use. Of the five C-130Hs delivered to the RNZAF in total, NZ7003 was one of the initial three aircraft to arrive in New Zealand in 1965, with the two remaining aircraft joining the fleet in 1969.
Under the employment of No 40 Squadron, this matured tactical transport has carried out a range of missions in support of a variety of operations across the globe, including to Europe, the Middle East and Antarctica. The aircraft supported countless humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) missions to New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours and allies across the world to deliver much-needed aid after they were hit by natural disasters. It also flew hundreds of missions to Antarctica, delivering scientists and equipment to the region to perform essential research operations. More recently, NZ7003 was used to transport vital military equipment and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Over the course of its service life, NZ7003 received a number of modifications and upgrades to enable it to remain technologically relevant and capable of continuing to carry on its vital airlift mission. The most recent of these was a Life Extension Programme (LEP), which began in 2005 and involved an extensive avionics upgrade of the aircraft’s flight deck and a structural refurbishment.
However, on June 5, 2020, the New Zealand government announced that it was to acquire a five-strong fleet of Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules to replace the ageing C-130H(NZ) Hercules transports, which have served as the workhorse of the RNZAF’s airlift capability since the mid-1960s. Deliveries of these new C-130J-30s is expected to begin in 2024, by which time the legacy C-130H(NZ) fleet will have been withdrawn from use.