Lockheed's Herculean effort in Africa
Lockheed Martin is focusing increased attention on Africa as a market for its C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft, in the face of stiff competition from the Airbus Defence C295, and the Alenia C-27J Spartan. Jon Lake reports.
The C-130J is an advanced new-build derivative of the original C-130A-H.
Its new 4,637shp Rolls Royce AE2100D3 engines and Dowty Propellers’ six-blade R391 propellers provide dramatic all-round performance improvements, as well as reduced operating costs.
The C-130J’s new engines provide 30% more power than the 4,590shp Allison T56-A-15 or Allison AN501-D22A turboprops used on the C-130 and L-100.
This, in turn, ensures that the Super Hercules is 10% faster than the ‘heritage’ version, with 40% more range and 35% lower direct operating costs, including 15% lower fuel burn.
The aircraft also incorporates digital avionics, a modern glass cockpit, and an integrated defensive aids suite.
The C-130J carries a flight crew of two with the flight engineer and navigator eliminated.
There are about 120 examples of the older ‘legacy C-130’ or ‘heritage Herk’ in service in Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Libya, Morocco, Niger, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia and Zambia.
But, although the C-130J Super Hercules has accumulated more than 1.2 million flying hours to date, with more than 330 on order or delivered to 16 countries, and though the new type is available in nine variants, including 17 different mission configurations, Tunisia is so far the only African operator.
The Tunisian Air Force received two stretched C-130J-30 versions of the Super Hercules in April 2013 and December 2014, and these are now in service with 21 Squadron, based at Bizerte-Sidi Ahmed Air Base.
Tunisia’s new aircraft will perform traditional airlift duties but will also support relief operations around the world, and are equipped for fire-fighting using the modular airborne fire-fighting system (MAFFS).
Egypt has also ordered a pair and will become the 17th international customer for the C-130J.
Lockheed Martin believes the only replacement for the original Hercules is a C-130J, though in Africa slightly smaller but more economical twin-engined transports like the C295 and C-27J are gaining traction, while bigger transport aircraft like the Airbus A400M promise to be able to carry larger loads that the Hercules (whose fuselage cross section was laid down in the 1950s) cannot. This includes larger modern vehicles and helicopters.
Lockheed Martin is also energetically marketing the LM-100J, the civil derivative of the C-130J, which lacks military avionics and communications equipment. The large fleet of L-100 aircraft (the commercial version of the ‘heritage Herk’) now in use in Africa, is in urgent need of recapitalisation, and the company expects to see strong civil demand for the LM-100J.
Lockheed launched the LM-100J in February 2014 and has already asked the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to certify it, a process that will take about three years to build the first aircraft, followed by about a year of certification testing.
Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics executive vice president, said: “We started the FAA certification process at the beginning of this year and we expect it to go through to the end of 2017, at which point we will enter the test period for validation, which will extend through 2018, so we are looking at first deliveries towards the end of that year.”
Lockheed built 114 L-100s from 1964 to 1992, and the company expects the market for the new LM-100J to be around 300 aircraft, with a break even at 12-15 aircraft.
Today, about 75 L100s remain in service, 35 of them with military air forces (including in Algeria, Gabon, and the Free Libyan Air Force). Around 36 more are in commercial service, including nine with South Africa’s Safair, three with Libyan Arab Air Cargo (previously known as Jamahiriya Air Transport) and two with Uganda Air Cargo. Five more are used by Transafrik, which is headquartered in Fujairah, UAE, but based in Angola, with its L-100s registered in Uganda.
Though a civilian freighter, the L100 has been used to support pro-western forces in the Angolan civil war, and in a number of other conflicts.
Some 30 of the 114 built were written off, 19 of them in Africa, including 12 in Angola. Six of the latter were shot down between 1981 and 1999 during the civil war, when National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels were supported by South Africa, the USA, and other western countries.
Today, four L100-30s are operated by Tepper Aviation, based at Bob Sikes Airport in Florida, USA.
Tepper Aviation was founded by Bud Tepper, a pilot who always denied that his Hercules had ever operated in the Congo or Angola, but who was killed in an L100 crash at the UNITA base of Jamba, Angola, carrying a load of arms from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Tepper Aviation continues to undertake flights in support of the US military, the UN and other customers.
The LM-100J promises to give civil operators the performance, capabilities, technology, and reliability of the military C-130J Super Hercules, with the same ability to operate from short, unprepared airfields, while being able to quickly load and unload at the height of a truck.
The aircraft is ideally suited for use by oil and gas operators and mining companies, which may need to deliver heavy equipment and plant to semi-prepared airstrips in austere locations. Lockheed Martin has said that it expects to sell about 75 aircraft to mining and energy companies.
The LM-100J can also be used for passenger and cargo transport, the delivery of humanitarian aid, medical evacuation, and VIP transport, as well as for specialised missions including aerial spraying, fire-fighting, and survey missions.
ASL Aviation, the parent company of the largest L-100 operator – South African air services operator Safair – signed the LM-100J’s launch order in July 2015, with a letter of intent for 10 aircraft to replace its existing nine L100s.