Lockheed C-130 Hercules
Hercules C-130H at the European Air Transport
Training (Zaragoza Airbase)
The Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" series performs tactical transport missions, predominantly over short and medium distances. The first C-130 aircraft were flown and deployed in the USA in the 1950s. The most used C-130H has been employed in Europe since the 1970s. Within the EATC assigned fleet the H-model is used by the Air Forces of Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Spain. Additionaly Italy already flies the C-130J version, which has been improved in many respects and can be refueled in flight.
A versatile workhorse
Fully loaded the aircraft has an average operating range of almost 3.000 km. The cargo bay, which is more than 12 meters long, can even accommodate light armored vehicles. The Hercules has a large rear ramp (3.12 m wide, 2.74 m long), making the aircraft independent of modern airfield infrastructure. As a result, the Hercules can be employed in remote areas, too. This operational role is supported by the ability to take off and land on short and rough runways (STOL: short take-off and landing). The aircraft carries personnel and materiel throughout theaters of operations, be it for simple logistic transport or dropping of load or paratroopers. The large loading door can be opened in flight for this purpose.
Furthermore, Hercules transport aircraft are used for evacuation operations, and they have proven their worth in tactical MedEvac missions, too. Because of this capability it is also used for similar humanitarian purposes.
Low-level flight of a French C-130H-30 Hercules
The four-engine aircraft are usually equipped with suitable on-board safety and self-protection systems (e.g. ejection of flares) against airborne and ground-based threats. Due to their STOL capabilities, Hercules transport aircraft belong to the largest aircraft capable of landing on aircraft carriers as well as in the Arctic/Antarctic regions.
Besides the C-130H version, France, Spain and the Netherlands also employ the H30 version - a C-130H variant, which has been extended by five meters to allow for a greater payload and more PAX on board. Spain also runs the KC-130H, which operates as tactical tanker, but which can also fulfill all operational roles described above.
The most versatile versions are the KC 130H and the C-130J aircraft, that can also be converted into a tanker (KC-130J) by means of AAR equipment kits and - due to its revised cockpit configuration - can operate with a crew of three, while the standard H-crew is of five soldiers onboard.
The introduction of the J-version considerably improved the performance characteristics of the aircraft, although the airframe itself is the same on the outside. The J-model features considerably updated technology: among others, differences include new turboprops (six propeller blades), digital avionics amd head-up displays (HUDs) for each pilot.
Five EATC nations run “the Hercules”
The Royal Netherlands Air Force runs four C-130 (2x C-130H & 2x C-130H-30) Hercules transport aircraft, which are operated by squadron 336 on Eindhoven Airbase (from 1994-2007 at squadron 334).
The Belgian Air Force initially ran eleven C-130H aircraft. At the end of the decade they are planned to be replaced by several A400M aircraft. Until then the Belgian Hercules aircraft operate from the 15th Air Transport Wing in Melsbroek (military part of the Brussels International Airport).
The Spanish Air Force runs six C-130H, one C-130H-30 and five KC-130H. The C-130H and the C-130H-30 are with the squadron 311, the KC-130H with the squadron 312. Both belong to the Spanish Air Transport Wing 31, stationed at Zaragoza Airbase.
Besides the already mentioned capabilities of the Italian Hercules aircraft, there is one special capability worth to highlight: these aircraft from Pisa Airbase are also used for medical transport (military as civilian) by taking up ambulance vehicles in their cargo bay. Moreover, the aircraft is also one of the few European aircraft to run the special ATI (Transport Aircraft Isolator), which is able to safely transport patients at high risk of contagion. The Italian fleet will not only be the most modern-, but also the biggest Hercules contribution to the EATC assigned fleet: Italy runs 21 of these tactical AT aircraft that sometimes are also named “Super Hercules” or “Hercules II”. Anyway, after the Transfer of Authority (ToA) of these aircraft to EATC operational control (OPCON) - planned for beginning 2016 - the EATC assigned fleet will become clearly younger – and more capable.
Italian KC-130J while AAR mission
Pictures: Spanish-, French-, Italian- and Dutch Air Force, EATC