The Royal New Zealand Air Force has provisionally accepted the first upgraded Lockheed Martin C-130H to have been returned to its air base Auckland following a life-extension programme (LEP) undertaken by L-3 Communications. The government, however, has yet to decide on the contractor for the programme's final three aircraft.

"The air force's five C-130 Hercules are undergoing an upgrade that includes a new glass cockpit, upgraded navigational capability, an advanced communication suite, a centre wing refurbishment, a new self-protection suite and replacement of 98% of its original wiring," says Air Component Commander Air Cdre Steve Moore.

"The upgrades will enhance the ability to meet the varied and demanding tasks required of the aircraft," Moore adds.

He says that the aircraft, which were originally delivered in the late 1960s, have had "one of the most extensive C-130 upgrades ever carried out". The LEP work also includes a part task trainer, which electronically emulates aircraft systems to support crew instruction activities.

To now enter a period of operational test and evaluation, the re-delivered aircraft follows a first example already upgraded by L-3 in the USA and now undergoing maintenance in New Zealand. An air force source says the last three will be upgraded at the service's Woodbourne air base, with the government in the process of selecting a contractor.

The upgrade programme was originally intended to extend the service life of the aircraft to 2017, but extensive programme delays means this needs to be re-evaluated.

The air force source adds that a government defence white paper due out shortly will provide guidance about the service's missions out to 2035. This will help determine whether the C-130s are upgraded again or replaced.

New Zealand's C-130s are used for a number of missions, including tactical transport, disaster relief, civil defence support, aero-medical transport and support for the nation's Antarctic programme.

Source: Flight International