Nothing caps four busy days at a major air show such as Dubai
like a ride in a military aircraft. At both Paris and Dubai Lockheed Martin
hosted a media flight on the C-130J Super Hercules. Both flights were very
different, yet highlighted the capabilities of what's perhaps the world's most
venerable military transport. There is no better way to learn about an aircraft
than actually flying in it and chatting with the guys who work with it day after day.
On Wednesday's Dubai
flight, for example, I learned that when the C-130J is unloading cargo in a hot
landing zone the pilot can feather the aircraft's propellers while keeping the
engines at a high power rating. This means the guys rushing to unload
ammunition, food, vehicles, or whatever aren't blanketed by dust while they
work - yet the aircraft can still take off quickly if necessary.
Another cool thing: before take off the co-pilot sticks a
special flash card into a slot next to his right arm rest. This records all
aspects of the aircraft's performance throughout a sortie, and the data
gathered later helps maintenance crews quickly identify issues. The pilot told
me that he used to fly the ubiquitous H model. The J, he said, requires three
crew as opposed to five for the H, and is still easier to fly and operate.
I had the opportunity to sit in the co-pilot's seat for a few
moments. The pilot was still very much in control of the aircraft, but it was
interesting to see how clear everything looked through the heads up display -
and this with intense glare off the desert and Persian Gulf.
The aircraft was extremely responsive, and lining it up to reach specific
waypoints was easy. At one point the pilot accelerated to 180 knots from 170 knots. I could feel the aircraft surge beneath me.
Aside from its ability to entertain journalists, the C-130
series has been a huge sales winner for Lockheed. In the form of various variants
it has been flying for over half a century, and production of its latest
variant, the C-130J, will continue for some years. 15 countries have bought it.
In the Asia Pacific C-130J users include Australia
(a long-time C-130 user) and India,
where the C-130J was the first American aircraft purchased in decades. India
has committed to six, and wants six more.
Finally, the views over Dubai
and the Persian gulf were awesome. I'll take this thing
over a commercial airliner any day. Below are photos of the flight, courtesy of Andy Poulastides/Lockheed Martin.