Attrition: Old Aircraft Never Die, They Get Consumed

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November 20, 2007: A U.S. Air Force recently retired a 44 year old C-130 transport [PHOTO], that had spent 29,500 hours in the air. On average, C-130s last about 25 years, and about 20,000 hours in the air. But averages are just that, and some aircraft get lucky. The 44 year old C-130 was shot up pretty bad in Vietnam, requiring both wings and all four engines to be replaced. Another element of luck is how many, or few, "high stress" (heavy load, rough weather) flights it undertakes. The key component in C-130 longevity is the center wing box. This component takes the most punishment, and if it suffers corrosion, as well as enough stress to cause metal fatigue, it usually means the useful life of the aircraft is over.

The C-130 has been in service 51 years. So far, 2,262 have been built, and it is still in production. That is unprecedented. Several other military aircraft remained in service over half a century (the British Canberra , B-52, the Russian Tu-95, AN-2, and the U.S. DC-3). But no other aircraft has remained in production for so long.

Originally, the C-130 was designed to carry 15 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, a range of over 12,000 kilometers, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 is used by more than 50 countries.

When retired, U.S. military aircraft usually end up at a storage yard in the dry southwest, where the aircraft can be cannibalized for spare parts, until the remaining bits are sold for scrap.

 


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