One Million Flight Hours
and Counting


A Defense Daily interview with Lockheed Martin's George Shultz and Jack Crisler

Lockheed Martin’s C-130J Super Hercules has long been known as the proven choice in tactical airlift thanks to its hallmark traits — flexibility, affordability, availability and reliability.

Earlier this year, the Super Herc proved it’s still without equal as the worldwide fleet soared past a milestone of one million flight hours.

The one million flight hours began with the C-130J’s first flight on April 5, 1996, and were tallied through the end of April 2013. The hours were logged by 13 countries operating 290 C-130Js and include combat, special operations and humanitarian missions as well as flight tests and production sorties. Today, the C-130J is flown by the United Kingdom, United States (Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard), Australia, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Canada, India, Qatar, Oman, Iraq, Tunisia and Israel.  

Many different types of C-130Js were used to achieve this milestone. Seven of the C-130J’s nine model designations contributed directly to the one million hour accumulation, including: C-130J combat delivery, C-130J-30 combat delivery extended fuselage, or stretch, U.S. Coast Guard HC-130J longrange surveillance, EC-130J psychological warfare, KC-130J combat delivery tanker, WC-130J weather reconnaissance, U.S. Air Force HC-130J personnel recovery aircraft and MC-130J Special Operations Forces tanker.

With two additional operators joining the ranks in 2014 — Kuwait and South Korea — and new model options becoming available — an SC-130J maritime patrol and the C-130XJ, or expandable J — the C-130J family is wellpositioned for continued worldwide growth.

Reaching new heights and setting the standard for tactical military transports is nothing new for the C-130 Hercules family. Since the Hercules first took to the skies almost 60 years ago, it’s earned a reputation as a workhorse ready for any mission, anywhere, anytime.

The C-130 is a worldwide franchise. To date, 2,449 C-130s have been delivered to 63 nations, including 295 C-130Js.

“We think the C-130J’s versatility and capacity for upgrades will play a major role around the world for years to come,” said Jack Crisler, vice president, business development for Air Mobility, Special Operations and Maritime Programs at Lockheed Martin.

The C-130J airframe has proven it’s reliable, efficient and highly operational in harsh environments and combat theaters like Iraq and Afghanistan. This rugged aircraft is often seen as the first aircraft “in,” touching down on austere landing zones before any other transport to provide humanitarian relief after natural disasters. Among its missions, the C-130J also counts capabilities as diverse as aerial firefighting, supporting special operations, medical evacuation, aerial refueling and
tracking hurricanes.

The focus on flexibility and multi-role, multi-mission capabilities can be traced back to the original C-130A, which was designed in response to a need for U.S. forces to tactically resupply troops on the front lines, a lesson learned from the conflict in Korea, Crisler said.

“The original program was evolutionary; as new technology emerged, the company integrated it onto the aircraft,” Crisler said. “When new avionics emerged, we integrated it on the aircraft. So, when we developed the C-130J, we took the proven airframe and proven concepts of operation, then revolutionized the way that the aircraft performs the mission by digitizing the airplane.”

Since the first C-130 rolled-off the production line in 1956, Lockheed Martin has committed to continuously upgrading and improving this workhorse in very short order. This focus on near-real-time evolution benefitted the C-130J, making virtually every system, component and structural part of the aircraft more durable, easier to maintain and less expensive to operate than legacy C-130 models.

Lockheed Martin engineers knew the C-130J would do well as it moved through development, test and initial employment, but they had no idea it would set 54 aviation records in the process, said George Shultz,
vice president and general manager of C-130 Programs. Shultz was one of the engineers in the early days of the Super Hercules program.

“The real goals were to improve reliability, cost of ownership, fuel efficiency and capability. And, while we were doing that, improve the payload capacity, its range and the speed the airplane could fly,” Shultz said. “The J’s cockpit is completely digital, as is the back end of the aircraft. Because of this, the C-130J has the capability to precisely resupply troops no matter where they are.”

The C-130J that exists today — those coming off the assembly line at a rate of 24 per year and those already flying— came about through an iterative process of development and test, followed by updates based on lessons learned from real-world deployments and operations.

“In addition to knowing exactly how this aircraft performs, we know exactly how much it costs to operate, exactly how much it costs to fly and how much it costs to support. We know when we’ll deliver airplanes — there is no guessing or predicting with a million hours of actuals,” Crisler said.

Another insight gleaned during the initial million hours of flight was that the C-130J had a valuable asset in an existing — and expanding — vast, global support network that supports Js and legacy Hercules models with equal precision and expertise.

“Anywhere in the world, there is a support structure in place that can handle a C-130,” Shultz said. “That’s because the 2,154 legacy C-130A-H models and commercial L-100s that came before the J model have operated out of more than 70 different nations that invested in the Hercules’ unmatched versatility.”

The million flight hours also produced ample amounts of reliability data.

“That reliability data enables us to work with our supply chain to continuously improve the aircraft,” Crisler said. “We can improve integral parts of the aircraft – like the engines, auxiliary power unit (APU) and avionics suite – in real-time. The airplane is performing and exceeding early predictions in many areas because of the avionics and engine performance.”

“That’s driven largely because we upgraded the Rolls-Royce engines on this airplane from a T56 to the AE2100D3 motor,” Crisler added. “It has more horsepower, it operates much more efficiently and it lasts quite a bit longer on the wing.”

When the upgraded engine is coupled with the internal digitized design, the result is an exceptionally efficient airplane with about a 30 percent lower cost per flying hour than legacy C-130s.

“The C-130J back-end design is now evolving to an application-driven mission system,” Shultz said. The flexibility of the new digital avionics architecture allows users to apply their mission systems software to the cargo compartment, or even to integrate the software into the cockpit, offering options for the customers.

“Whether the user wants to reconfigure the back end with a roll-on/roll-off capability, or change from a cargo container delivery mission to a medevac mission, the flexibility of the enhanced cargo handling system allows crews to reconfigure the Super Herc in just a few hours compared to half a day in older models — another reason why the aircraft is so popular,” Shultz added.

“That flexibility has been and remains very important to our customers,” Crisler said, noting that Lockheed Martin understands the value of flexibility, which explains the more than 70 C-130 versions produced over the past 60 years.

With the United States military policy shifting more toward the Asia-Pacific region, the C-130 will continue to remain relevant and flexible.

“Distances in U.S. Pacific Command area of operations are exponentially greater than those in U.S. Central Command or Europe. Having an airplane that can fly farther, faster and carry more in a changing environment is very important,” Shultz said. “The ability for an asset to do more is a discriminator for the C-130J.”

The C-130J demonstrates its flexibility in other areas as well.

“One of the things C-130J does — and does very well — is fly low and slow enough to refuel helicopters in flight, but also fly high and fast enough to refuel fighter aircraft as well,” Shultz said. “Because of this, the C-130J is a true force multiplier.”

Another lesson from the first million flying hours flown is the importance of innovation through partnerships. Partnerships with customers are essential to successfully enhancing and upgrading the C-130J. Lockheed Martin works in tandem with operators through official partnership programs, such as the Block Upgrade initiatives, to continually improve the Super Hercules.

“We work very closely with these partner groups. That drives affordability in a positive way because the operators share in the development cost for any improvement we make to meet their evolving requirements,” Shultz said. “The beauty of this program is that our customer base is constantly finding new and different ways to use this aircraft.”

The international freight market is beginning to see the value of the new capabilities, driving an interest in producing a commercial variant of the C-130J, the L-100J.

“We’re evaluating that business case now,” Shultz said. “It’s just another example of our customers finding a new way of using the airplane.”

From 1964-1992, Lockheed Martin delivered 113 L-100 aircraft, a commercial C-130 with Hercules capabilities, including the ability to land in austere airfields and carry large cargo loads great distances. The L-100 proved to be a good fit particularly for the mining- and oil-exploration industries.

“Along with our customers and suppliers, we constantly look at this airplane and find ways we can improve its performance and make it more affordable,” Shultz said. “Creating new capabilities while maintaining affordability has been and will continue to be the bedrock of the C-130 program —and that’s how we’ll always ensure that the C-130J Super Hercules not only meets, but exceeds our customers’ expectations.”'

October 17, 2013

Shultz and Crisler

(L to R): George Shultz, vice president and general manager, C-130 Programs, and Jack Crisler, vice president, Business Development for Air Mobility, Special Operations and Maritime Programs, at Lockheed Martin’s C-130J production line in Marietta, Ga.

  • The C-130J Super Herc proved it’s still without equal as the worldwide fleet soared past a milestone of one million flight hours in April 2013.
  • The C-130 is a worldwide franchise. To date, 2,449 C-130s have been delivered to 63 nations, including 295 C-130Js.
  • With upgraded engines and a new internal digitized design, the C-130J is an exceptionally efficient airplane with about a 30 percent lower cost per flying hour than legacy C-130s.