Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules airlifter has been in continuous production since 1955. After the C-130J joined the family 25 years ago, nearly 500 Super Hercules have been built for US forces and foreign operators, as Tom Kaminski reports
When Lockheed began development of the nextgeneration C-130 in January 1992, the model L-382J Super Hercules was given new powerplants and propellers, an all-glass digital cockpit with four colour multi-function display units (CMDU) and individual head-up displays (HUD) for the pilots. The redesigned cockpit eliminated the need for a flight engineer and navigator, allowing the airlifter to be flown by a crew comprising two pilots and a loadmaster. Assembly of the initial aircraft began in Marietta, Georgia, on September 30, 1994.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) became the launch customer for the new variant in December 1994. Its 25 aircraft order was split between 15 stretched C-130J-30s and ten standard-length C-130Js that became known in RAF service as the Hercules C4 and Hercules C5, respectively.
The first RAF C-130J-30 was rolled out at Marietta on October 18, 1995, by which time Lockheed Martin had been formed from a merger with the Martin Marietta Corporation. Wearing the civil registration N130JA, ZH865 (c/n 5408), first flew on April 5, 1996. Initially based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire and operated by 24, 30 and 47 Sqns, the Super Hercules fleet relocated to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire in 2011. Today, 47 Sqn carries out the operational missions, while 24 Sqn is the operational conversion unit (OCU).