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ANALYSIS: Why Super Hercules is a strong performer

With Lockheed Martin having marked the latest milestone in its C-130J “Super Hercules” programme on 9 February – the delivery of its 400th example – we use Flight Fleets Analyzer data to detail the type’s sales performance so far.

First flown from Lockheed’s Marietta final assembly site in Georgia in April 1996, the C-130J commenced deliveries to the UK Royal Air Force in September 1998. This followed a significant development delay, including with the integration of its new Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 turboprop engines.

Seventeen nations currently operate the tactical transport and multiple sub-variants, with Fleets Analyzer recording 375 examples as in current active service.

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Royal Norwegian Air Force

“To date, the global fleet of C-130Js has surpassed more than 1.7 million flight hours supporting almost any mission requirement,” Lockheed says. It lists duties performed by the type as including “transport, firefighting, search and rescue, special operations, weather reconnaissance and aerial refuelling”.

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Fleets Analyzer data shows that North American operators have 73% of all operational C-130Js, with Canada’s 17 dwarfed by the US military’s current 258. Five European operators fly a combined 47 examples, while three Asia-Pacific-region air forces have a combined 27. Six nations in the Middle East use 24 of the type, while Tunisia is the lone adopter in Africa so far, with two units acquired.

The milestone 400th aircraft has been produced in the MC-130J Commando II combat tanker configuration for the US Air Force Special Operations Command, but is destined for conversion into an AC-130J “Ghostrider” gunship prior to entering service.

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Lockheed Martin

Lockheed delivered 26 C-130Js to customers in 2017; two more than its previous year’s production total. Fleets Analyzer records its current firm order backlog for the type as standing at a combined 90 units, for the USAF (76), US Marine Corps (8), France and the US Coast Guard: both of which will receive three.

Meanwhile, the company also is advancing with certification testing of its LM-100J commercial freighter, which draws on its Super Hercules design experience while removing military equipment. The model is intended to replace aged examples of the L-100 freighter, which Lockheed produced until 1992.

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Lockheed Martin

Fleets Analyzer data shows that the C-130J has had a good safety record in military service, with 12 accidents recorded, including seven total hull losses. Of those, four involved fatalities.

The first fatal loss involving the type was in November 2009, when an Italian air force KC-130J tanker crashed shortly after taking off from Pisa. All five personnel aboard were killed in the incident. Five crew also died when a Royal Norwegian Air Force transport crashed into a mountain in southern Sweden In March 2012. An Indian air force transport was lost when it crashed into the ground during a tactical low-level flight in March 2014, also killing five.

In the worst loss involving a C-130J, a USAF example crashed in Afghanistan in October 2015 after its crew lost control and stalled immediately after a night-time take-off from Jalalabad airfield. Investigators found that a night-vision goggle case which had been used to jam the aircraft’s elevator in an up position during cargo loading had not been removed. All 11 people onboard were killed, along with three Afghan military personnel on the ground.

Non-fatal hull losses include a UK Royal Air Force aircraft which was destroyed by British personnel after sustaining extensive damage when an improvised explosive device was detonated as it landed at a remote strip in Iraq in February 2007.

In May 2013, a USAF C-130J was written off after over-running the landing strip at a forward operating base in Afghanistan. And in April 2015, one of the service’s brand-new AC-130J gunships had to be scrapped after its pilots departed controlled flight during a flight-test conducted from Eglin AFB, Florida. The airframe was over-stressed – including by becoming inverted – during the incident, which happened when side-slip testing went wrong.

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US Air Force

With a production backlog of 90 aircraft in hand and commercial-variant LM-100Js also to produce, Lockheed looks set to be able to continue producing the C-130J for many more years. Indeed, with Fleets Analyzer showing that the current production standard accounts for just 30% of the global fleet of 1,252 active Hercules, it has many additional sales targets still in its sights.