The first C-130H Hercules delivered to the Royal New Zealand Air Force has celebrated its 50th birthday while on operations supporting the Vanuatu cyclone recovery effort.
NZ7001 was the first of five C-130Hs delivered the RNZAF at Whenuapai on March 24 1965. On its 50th birthday, the aircraft was tasked to fly from Suva to Port Vila with a Fijian aid team before returning to Whenuapai that evening. To commemorate the milestone NZ7001 has been painted with a special 50th anniversary tail art scheme which it will wear for a year.
“In the 50 years these amazing aircraft have served New Zealand, they have spanned the globe supporting everything you could expect of an air transport aircraft, both in peace time and on active operations,” the CO of 40SQN, SQNLDR Steve Thornley, said. “This month alone we have seen C-130s delivering aid, supporting NZDF personnel in the Middle East and moving an elephant for Auckland Zoo. It is this sort of utility that keeps these aircraft in such high demand all over the world and is a testament to both the quality of design and the commitment of those that work on them that the first of our fleet of five has reached this milestone.”
The five C-130Hs were recently upgraded under the NZ$255m (A$247m) Hercules Life Extension Program which saw the replacement of various mechanical, structural and avionics components designed to extend the fleet for another decade.
In the meantime, the effort to replace the venerable Hercules has ramped up in recent weeks with the launch by Airbus of a media campaign in New Zealand for its A400M airlifter. The campaign comes after a visit to the region by a French air force A400M for the Avalon Airshow in February where the aircraft was toured by NZ Defence officials, and in February a demonstration of the capabilities of an RAAF Boeing C-17 in New Zealand.
New Zealand hopes to replace the C-130s and its two Boeing 757 transports with a common type, one that can support that country’s overseas coalition commitments as well as its Antarctic interests.
With Boeing reportedly holding an order for two of its last C-17s for an unnamed customer it has been rumoured that these may be for New Zealand, but Airbus is not giving up.
“We think we need to speak up and explain there is an alternative,” Airbus defence manager NZ Valentin Merino told the New Zealand Herald. “We have a feeling we need to explain there is an alternative to the C-17 to comply with what New Zealand wants to do.”