The Polish air force received its first of five secondhand Lockheed Martin C-130E tactical transports during a 24 March ceremony at its Powidz air base.
Purchased for $98.4 million using a US Foreign Military Financing loan, the aircraft will be assigned to the 14th Air Transport Squadron, with the last to arrive in 2010. Warsaw is also investing about 617 million zlotys ($184 million) to make infrastructure investments at Powidz by 2012, including a new C-130 maintenance hangar to be completed by the end of next year.
Originally ordered by the US Air Force in 1970, Poland's aircraft are being refurbished by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems in Waco, Texas. Including the installation of replacement centre wing boxes sourced from aircraft ordered between 1958 and 1961, this work is expected to allow the fleet to remain in use for another 20 years.
Further modifications include the addition of a self-protection suite including missile approach warners and radar warning receivers, plus additional armour plating and a new weather radar.
© Bartosz Glowacki
The aircraft will be used for duties including personnel and equipment transport, airdrop and paradrop tasks, medical evacuation and rescue missions, and to support international peacekeeping and humanitarian commitments involving Poland's armed forces. Each aircraft should fly around 600h a year.
Poland will eventually have 15 air crews totalling 75 personnel available to operate its C-130Es, with five crews having completed training with the USAF by late March. An initial 25 ground support personnel are also being trained in the USA under the acquisition.
© Mirosław Wójtowicz/Polish air force
Polish air force officials say the Hercules fleet will be the subject of future upgrades in areas including avionics and engines, but add that decisions will be made after gaining operational experience with the type.
The Hercules becomes the Polish air force's largest transport asset, and arrived two months after the retirement of its last Antonov An-26. The service also has nine EADS Casa C-295s, with a further two to arrive this year, plus 17 An-28/PZL Mielec M-28s. Poland is also among the 12 nations involved in a NATO-led initiative to acquire a pooled fleet of three Boeing C-17 strategic transports to be based at Papa air base in Hungary from later this year.
Additional reporting by Grzegorz Sobczak