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Backbone of the Air Force
Hercules proves a sure thing for No.36 Squadron

An inspection of a C-130H Hercules in July 1978 at RAAF Base Richmond. The fleet has since amassed more than 210,000 accident-free hours.
An inspection of a C-130H Hercules in July 1978 at RAAF Base Richmond. The fleet has since amassed more than 210,000 accident-free hours.

By 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 Force’s 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 aircraft’s 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 SQN’s 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 easier.

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 of Australia.

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 isn’t 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 Government’s 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 luggage.

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 II.

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 boat’s flag to 36 SQN and it enjoys pride of place in the headquarters’ briefing room.

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 aircraft’s 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 point.

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” around Australia.

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”.

Dine with a C-130H

The 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 roxanne.williamson@defence.gov.au.



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