of the Air Force
Hercules proves a sure thing for No.36 Squadron
inspection of a C-130H Hercules in July 1978 at RAAF Base
Richmond. The fleet has since amassed more than 210,000
FLTLT Jarrod Pendlebury
THIS is a significant year for the Air Lift Group (ALG) at RAAF
Base Richmond. It marks 25 years of continuous operation of the
C-130H Hercules, an aircraft that has served as the backbone of
the Air Forces airlift capability since delivery in 1978.
Operated by No. 36 Squadron, the C-130H has forged a reputation
as a rugged, reliable and extremely capable platform, well suited
to the myriad of tasks it is regularly called upon to perform.
C-130H aircraft have operated on every continent and have proven
equally suited to the freezing temperatures of the Antarctic and
the arid, dusty environment of the Middle East.
36 SQN provides airlift worldwide for strategic (high level) and
tactical (low level) airlift, search and survivor assistance,
medical evacuation, flood and drought relief, airdrop of personnel
and supplies and community aid.
Replacement for the C130A
36 SQN took delivery of its first C-130H in July 1978 and has
since amassed a staggering 210,000 accident-free hours. This statistic
is more impressive when you consider the aircrafts main
role is tactical transport and many hours have been flown supporting
ground forces in conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
Most recently the C-130H has been heavily involved in ongoing
operations in Iraq, out-performing coalition partners in serviceability,
sorties flown and loads carried.
The C-130H replaced the C-130A on 36 SQNs inventory in July
1978 and with the new aircraft came a greatly enhanced capability.
The H model, while similar to the A, had more powerful engines
and increased maximum weight, allowing it to fly further, higher
and faster, with a greater payload.
The new aircraft also had an integrated Brooks and Perkins
cargo system incorporating floor rollers and locks, making the
loading and unloading of standard palletised cargo quicker and
The aircraft were delivered in a camouflage pattern (the first
time for an Australian Hercules), making it difficult to gain
a visual tally in a tactical environment. That camouflage pattern
remains today (with minor modifications), although a number of
aircraft are trialing an all-over olive drab colour scheme.
A versatile aircraft
In November 1979, a C-130H was committed to assist the International
Committee of the Red Cross to supply aid in Cambodia. Reports
from crew members indicated they were regularly held at gunpoint
while unloading and loading and faced the threat of surface-to-air
missiles on entry and egress from Phnom Phen.
The squadron also began flights to McMurdo Sound in Antarctica,
usually tasked with ferrying cargo and personnel between there
and Christchurch NZ. Unfortunately these trips to the ice
ceased in 1983, but proved the H model to be as well adapted to
sub-zero temperatures as to the comparatively mild operating climate
RAAF C-130H aircraft were one of the first assets committed in
support of coalition operations in Iraq this year and steadily
built a reputation for reliable airlift.
After the commencement of hostilities, aircraft were often tasked
with resupply missions to various airfields in Iraq and crews
were able to successfully operate into hastily-prepared strips
with minimal lighting, using night vision goggles.
With only two aircraft in theatre, Australian H models were still
able to lift a large percentage of total cargo carried, due to
high sortie rates and a more analytical approach to load configurations
and sizes than some of the other Hercules operators in theatre.
The RAAF C-130H deployment in the Middle East looks likely to
continue in the immediate future and highlights the fact these
25-year-old aircraft are still as capable as ever.
Whilst the C-130H was designed with tactical transport in mind,
one task it isnt specifically tailored for is airline operations.
Nonetheless, in August 1989, 36 SQN, along with other Air Force
assets, found itself tasked with the carriage of civilian passengers
as part of Operation Immune, the Federal Governments response
to a strike by airline pilots. From August until December the
C-130H carried thousands of passengers and their luggage to and
from destinations that would have been otherwise isolated.
The final Royal Australian Air Lines flight touched down in Brisbane
on December 15, 1989, ending a unique chapter in the operation
of this versatile aircraft. The C-130H alone had flown more than
800 flights, carrying around 50,000 grateful passengers and their
36 SQN subsequently won the Tourist Transportation Award at the
1990 Queensland Tourist Awards in recognition of the service provided.
The Hercules is also well suited to offer relief to the civil
community when floods and drought regularly affect remote and
regional areas (the aircraft is capable of disgorging about 400
hay bales in ten passes).
36 SQN is regularly tasked with Search and Survivor Assistance
(SASA) missions, with one of the more famous sorties being to
assist lone yachtswoman Isabelle Autissier, stranded in the Southern
Ocean during the BOC Challenge in her vessel Ecureuil Potiou Charentes
Her boat had been dismasted and capsized in freezing waters before
being spotted by a P3-C Orion. 36 SQN was tasked with station
keeping, until a Navy vessel was able to steam into the
treacherous seas south of Australia and complete the rescue.
An immensely relieved Autisser presented her boats flag
to 36 SQN and it enjoys pride of place in the headquarters
The H model fleet was once again called out at short notice to
provide aeromedical evacuation services following the Bali bombings
of October 2002. The aircraft provided a stable platform with
ample room for around 70 litters (stretcher beds) and specialist
medical teams to carry out life-saving work.
Keeping up to date
The aircraft were originally delivered with a single Litton 72
Inertial Navigation System (INU). These units incorporated mechanical
gyroscopes and while the aircraft were fitted with sextants, it
was the INUs that became the primary means of navigation. The
Litton 72 units were subsequently upgraded to two Litton 92s,
which utilised ring laser gyroscopes and sophisticated mathematical
modelling which increased accuracy and stability.
The recent fleet-wide installation of a Flight Management System,
the FMS-800, has greatly increased the aircrafts navigational
accuracy. The FMS-800 interfaces two Global Positioning Systems
with the existing Litton 92 INUs providing a continuous update,
allowing the aircraft to be flown within several metres of a desired
As anti-aircraft weaponry increased in sophistication it became
necessary to conduct high threat missions under the cover of darkness.
It was not until the purchase of night vision goggles for C-130H
aircrew that this capability could be utilised to its full potential.
Another quantum leap came with the introduction of Electronic
Warfare Self Protection (EWSP). This suite allows the aircrew
to detect radar and missile threats and react while deploying
countermeasures to defeat anything fired at them.
Perhaps the most interesting and complicated modification to the
aircraft is the one currently under way.
The main flight instruments (horizontal situation indicator, aircraft
direction indicator, engine and fuel indicators) have been isolated
as a weak link and a project was commenced to determine the feasibility
of replacing them with digital displays.
The first aircraft modified in such a way should be ready for
initial acceptance testing by the end of the year, with modifications
expected to follow soon after.
The C-130H is the third variant of the venerable Lockheed Hercules
operated by the Air Force.
The type has been successfully operated in countless peacetime
and hostile operations, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq,
whilst also bearing much of the burden of routine trash-hauling
The countless men and women of the past 25 years who have contributed
to C-130H operations maintenance, logistics, administrative
support and aircrew deserve the ultimate accolade, for
without each of them the aircraft would not meet its true potential,
nor would 36 SQN continue to live up to its motto of Sure.
with a C-130H
Commanding Officer of 36 SQN, Wing Commander John Samulski, extends
an invitation to all who have had an association with the C130H
over the past 25 years to attend an anniversary function at RAAF
Base Richmond on Saturday, November 15.
Please contact Corporal Roxanne Williamson by October 31 on (02)
4587 3433 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.