Lockheed Martin now plans to deliver the first of 25 of its C-130J Hercules to the Royal Air Force at the end of February 1998 - almost 18 months later than originally planned - and will be forced to compensate its launch customer.

C-130Jchief test pilot Bob Price says that development testing is almost complete. The flight-test effort is now focused on US Federal Aviation Administration certification. Lockheed Martin has encountered several developmental problems which have delayed first deliveries of the aircraft.

The FAA certification of the improved Hercules transport is scheduled for the end of March 1998. In addition to RAF deliveries, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will start to receive its aircraft in the second quarter of 1998. The first US Air Force C-130J is to be delivered next June.

The seven aircraft being used in the flight-test programme will be joined by two more, says Price, along with two aircraft to be used for ground-integration testing.

Some 2,100h of flight testing have been completed. Testing of the Block 2 avionics software required for certification was scheduled to begin in mid-November. Testing of the Block 3 basic military software is under way and Block 4 customer-specific software is to be loaded into RAF, RAAF and USAF test aircraft this month.

Price says that customers have accepted the stall-warning system, installed at the FAA's insistence, because of adverse stall characteristics caused by the C-130J's new propulsion system. "I was one of the biggest opponents of stick pushers in tactical aircraft," Price says. "Now I am the biggest proponent of putting them in every tactical aircraft." The C-130J stall-warning system provides visual cues on head-up and head-down displays starting 40kt (75km/h) above stall speed. At 7% above the stall, the pilot gets a flashing visual warning and an aural alert. When activated, the electric stick-pusher pitches the nose down "like an autopilot would".

Price says the stall-warning cues "-are so compelling, the pilot would really have to ignore them to get to the stick push". The "benign" stick push can be overridden with a 22kg pull on the control yoke, he says. C-130J stall speeds are lower than those of previous Hercules - below 70kt at full power. Approach speed is typically 130kt. Price adds that Lockheed Martin is rethinking plans to seek an aerodynamic solution to the stall characteristics because it is so satisfied with the stick pusher.

Source: Flight International