Flexibility of UK Hercules fleet could be improved by reducing weather dependency

The UK Royal Air Force is mulling using its Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules transports as pathfinders for its older, less sophisticated C-130Ks in a bid to improve the operational flexibility of both fleets.

Sqn Ldr Mark Pearce, a flight commander on the C130-J Tactical Training Flight (JTTF),says the newer aircraft's avionics - which include head-up displays (HUD), night-vision goggle (NVG)-compatible displays, a radar with an imaging capability, embedded GPS/INS navigation, and a digital map - present a number of new operational possibilities.

The C-130J's adverse weather aerial delivery system (AWADS) allows air drops of troops or cargo even if the landing zone is not visible, because the aircraft is flying in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Previously air drop operations were weather dependent.

"Do we need to see the drop zone?" says Pearce. "Yes for training, but no for operations." AWADS provides cueing data in the HUD in the same way information for a bomb run would be displayed in a fighter.

The station-keeping equipment in the two aircraft is compatible, adds Pearce, although the C-130K (Hercules C1/3) crews have to hand-fly the aircraft rather than being able to use an autopilot. "So the K can formulate on the J and then we can do an IMC drop using the J's capability," says Pearce.

He adds: "Why not combine the two aircraft? Use the equipment and aircraft to the best of their ability." The C-130J is now certificated for dropping paratroops, although it will not be cleared for heavy equipment drops until 2005, says Pearce.

Speaking at the IQPC Flight Training conference in London last month, Pearce said initial studies suggest a single C-130Jguiding two older aircraft would be operationally most effective. If introduced soon, combining the two aircraft in a package would allow the dropping of troops and heavy equipment, regardless of weather.

The RAF will retain its 26 Hercules C1/3s alongside its 25 C-130Js until around 2012.Both are used for routine transport missions as well as tactical operations, such as using austere forward airfields, air dropping and air assault. The RAF aims to have 25 operational "tactical crews", 15 of who will be from the C-130J fleet.

Gp Capt Ray Lock, station commander RAF Lyneham, the Hercules base, says the RAF cleared its first six C-130J crews to fly at 250ft (75m) using NVGs last month.

Source: Flight International