Lockheed Martin is expected to announce during the Dubai Air Show a deal with the Italian Air Force (IAF) for 18 C-130Js, the newest variant of the Hercules.

The company is confident that the contract will be signed in Washington DC later this week, allowing it to announce the order formally during the show. Deliveries to the IAF, which currently operates 12 C-130Hs, are expected to begin in 1999. The IAF has also embarked on a separate upgrade programme for its -Hs.

Flight testing on the -J has now passed 2,000h, with more than 800 flights.

Company spokesmen say Britain's Royal Air Force will receive the first production aircraft at the end of next February, bringing to an end a year-long delay in the development programme caused by stall problems.

"The programme is back on track," says Lockheed Martin, which has 25 firm orders from the UK, eight from the US Air Force and 12 from the Royal Australian Air Force.

Bob Price, Lockheed Martin's -J chief test pilot, acknowledges that solving the stall problem has been one of the most notable efforts of the aircraft's flight test programme.

Source: Flight Daily News