As the longest continuously produced military aircraft at more than 60 years, the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules deserves to be considered one of the greatest of all time. In total, 48 have supported ADF operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and Vietnam, and humanitarian disaster relief missions in Pakistan, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific.
Australia obtained its initial batch in December 1958, becoming the first nation to operate the aircraft outside of the US Air Force. The four-engine turboprop, medium-lift aircraft increased transport capability, and reduced reliance on piston driven aircraft such as the C-47. As the years progressed, RAAF kept faith in the Hercules. Three C-130Es were delivered to the re-formed No 37 Squadron from 1967 before No 36 Squadron's original C-130As were replaced by C-130H aircraft in 1978.
The H was a significant improvement, most notably due to its short, dirt runway capability. Aside from being able to parachute soldiers into battle, it could airdrop equipment such as 4WD vehicles, inflatable boats and artillery pieces.
“A number of C-130H aircraft are fitted with self-protection systems to improve survivability in hostile areas,” according to the RAAF Museum, Point Cook. “The self-protection system consists of a radar warning receiver, along with chaff and flare dispensers. The radar identifies and locates the radar emissions of anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles and fighter aircraft. If an aircraft is engaged by one of these threats, chaff and flares can be ejected to defeat them.”
The J Super Hercules, though, is now the definitive incarnation, supporting 128 passengers, or eight pallets of cargo. It can work alongside other airlifters, too, such as the C-27J Spartan and C-17A Globemaster III. In September 1999, it helped evacuate 2,500 people from Dili, as conflict in East Timor raged.
The RAAF marked 800,000 flying hours by its fleet over five decades with a formation flight of three over Sydney Harbour in 2014. “Behind this milestone is the contribution of many talented men and women who have made these 800,000 flying hours possible,” said then Commander of Air Mobility Group Air Commodore, Warren McDonald. “Several generations of Australians have contributed to this achievement, regardless of which Hercules they worked on.”