Air Transportation: C-130 Supremacy

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September11, 2008:  The U.S. Air Force has found that the half century old C-130 transport design is still the most effective way to support military operations in wartime. This is a good time for that to happen, as many of the air force's 600 C-130s are wearing out. So the air force is buying 172 C-130Js to replace 200 worn out C-130Es. The C-130s turn out to be more effective at bringing supplies to unpaved landing strips near the combat troops, and delivering just what is needed, not the much larger cargoes carried by the C-17.

The C-130J transport proved to be more than just another model in the fifty year old C-130 design. Mainly because it's cheaper and easier to use. Like most new commercial transports, the C-130 emphasizes saving money. The new engines generate 29 percent more thrust while using 15 percent less fuel. Increased automation reduced crew size from four to three. The C-130J is more reliable and easier to maintain. And this isn't all predictions. So far, C-130Js have cost nearly twenty percent less per hour than previous models.

 The most common version of the C-130 still in service is the C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C-130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. A stretched version of the C-130J can carry more bulky cargo, and goes for $95 million each. The C-130J has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 has been in service for over half a century, and has been in service of over 50 countries.

 The Lockheed Martin Corporation (LockMart), and its C-130 aircraft program, have a long history of exploiting political connections and the defense budget. For decades, key members of Congress, from states where the C-130 is manufactured, have forced the U.S. Air Force to buy C-130 aircraft they didn't want. The air force  ended up with 600 C-130s. But this proved to be a benefit, because politicians and air force generals generally unite to build jet fighters at the expense of more useful, but less sexy, transports.

 LockMart used a billion dollars of its own money to develop the C-130J, which ended up costing much more than the previous model, C-130H. The C-130J was better than the C-130H, and cheaper to operate, but the air force is still going to upgrade and refurbish several hundred older C-130s, mainly by replacing the center portion (the wing box), which is most prone to fatigue, and installing new electronics (which makes the aircraft cheaper to operate and maintain.)

 


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