Hercules still going strong at 70

The versatile Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules tactical airlifter is 70 years old in August and its career is far from over.

A Qatar Emir Air Force C-130J Hercules departs WDS on the eve of the event opening. (Photo: Arabian Aerospace)

To date 540 examples of the latest model, the C-130J Super Hercules, have been delivered, on the back of orders for more than 600.  

Even more impressive is the 2.8 million flight hours the C-130Js have flown, and then when you consider the 20 million flying hours the whole Hercules fleet has notched up over those 70 years, you can understand why Lockheed Martin’s Tim German says on the eve of WDS: “It’s an incredible aircraft!” 

In the Middle East region, 11 countries fly the C-130J, six of them – GCC allies Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia,  as well as Iraq and Israel – factory-fresh examples. Bahrain operates two former RAF C-130Js.

“We have 26 C-130 operators across the globe – it’s unmatched in the tactical airlift market,” says German. “There is a global presence, proven results, NATO compliance and in the Middle East there is interoperability between partner nations. The competition still has a long way to go to reach 2.8 million flight hours and needs to reach some significant operational qualifications and certifications.”

The Royal Saudi Air Force’s fleet of 39 aircraft is the biggest outside of the USA. The UAE also has substantial numbers with its mixed fleet that includes the L100. There have been notifications of more Kuwait, Saudi and UAE orders in the past, but as German says, that doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

“We can’t talk openly when it comes to foreign military sales (FMS) contracts and can’t discuss these under the government-to-government agreements until the aircraft turns up in-country.

“Some operators want to talk about expanding their fleet but we don’t generally talk about that because the countries prefer not to. You can understand that because of what’s happening in the neighbourhood.“

The Hercules look has  changed little over the years; German says that is why customers are happy to upgrade them. There is worldwide support for the C-130, with 15 service centres and heavy maintenance centres all over the world.