Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

TOP STORY >> ModifiedC-130s ready to fly in war

BY SARA GREENE
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Despite age, cargo plane remains workhorse in the global war on terror.

During a change of command ceremony at Little Rock Air Force Base last week, a 40-year-old C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft was parked nearby in the hangar, a reminder the plane is older than many of the aviators who pilot them in the global war on terror.

“It’s always been the workhorse of war,” said Lynn Hall, a contractor for Lockheed Martin. Hall teaches C-130 navigation to airmen at Little Rock Air Force Base.

“It can carry a lot of people, a lot of gear, land on small, rough airfields and it has the power for quick takeoffs,” Hall told The Leader.

Recently at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, mechanics created a modified version of the C-130– called a MC-130W – the first of a dozen such aircraft being re-designed by Air Force Special Operations Command to replace combat losses experienced over time .

Modifications to the planes include a basic electronic warfare capability to avoid potential threats, ability to work in special light conditions and strengthening of the tail. The aircraft are also equipped with air refueling pods for in-flight refueling of Special Operations Forces aircraft and combat search and rescue helicopters. The planes can also receive fuel from other refueling aircraft.

The last time “Herk” crews flew combat airdrops at this level was the Vietnam War. The plane is the aircraft of choice for inter-theater airlift in Afghanistan and Iraq capable of flying from areas located on some of the toughest terrain on the planet. C-130 crews from around the country have airlifted and airdropped thousands of supplies, some of it falling from the sky in the form of container-delivery system bundles weighing 1,200 to 2,300 pounds.

Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Co., European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company and L3 – a joint venture between Boeing, L-3 Communications and an Italian company called Alenia — are competing to design and build a Joint Cargo Aircraft described as a shorter, twin-engine version of the C-130.

About 70 of the planes would be delivered to the Army and 75 to the Air Force by 2010. Since the planes haven’t even been designed yet, there’s no price tag for the aircraft.

The latest version of the C-130, the J model, is 112 ft., 9 in. long, 15 ft. longer than the older E and H models. It is also more expensive, between $45 million and $90 million per plane compared to the $30 million price tag of the 40 year old E and H models.

To date, the Air Force has taken delivery of 37 C-130J aircraft from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, including seven at LRAFB. The C-130J contract was nearly scrapped by lawmakers, but an estimated $1.78 billion in cancellation costs made quitting the program just as expensive as continuing.