The last article in a series of interviews with Lockheed Martin.
June 6, 2023, © Leeham News: The Lockheed Martin C-130 cargo plane entered production in 1954. The first flight was the same year and it entered service in December 1956.
The latest version, the C-130J, is still in production. Named the Hercules, the C-130 is operated by armed services all over the world. Retired versions serve as aerial fire-fighting tankers. A small number of civilian versions, the L-100, serve as commercial freighters.
The C-130J, called the Super Hercules, extends the life of the C-130 series indefinitely. And production for its first civilian operator, a Texas cargo airline, is underway.
Attempts by Airbus with the larger A400M and Embraer with the similarly sized, jet-powered C-390 to compete with or replace the C-130 have largely failed. More than 2,600 C-130s have been produced in 69 years.
The larger A400M has been a technically challenging aircraft and a financial disaster for Airbus. Production began in 2007. The first flight was in December 2009. It entered service in 2013. Only somewhat more than 100 have been built and sales of less than 200 have been made. A host of technical problems marred performance and schedule.
Embraer’s KC-390/C-390, about the same size as the C-130, trades turboprops for jet engines. Production began in 2014. The first flight was in February 2015, and it entered service in 2019. The Brazilian Air Force was to be the largest customer and operator. But financial constraints and changing policies resulted in a reduction in the order. As of today, only about 70 have been ordered and only about a dozen are in service.
Embraer partnered with the US company L3 Harris to market the C-390, including to the US Air Force.
In our visit to Lockheed Martin’s Marietta (GA) in April, Ken Moss, the Capture Manager for Business Development, Air Mobility and Maritime Missions, said the Air Force is likely to consider the C-390, which also has aerial refueling capabilities (as does the C-130J).
“What we’ve proven is the C-130 is an extremely capable aircraft designed for both the United States, an advanced first-world nation that has interests around the world, and is still affordable and productive enough for those countries that are not nearly as advanced. It provides access both unimproved and improved, the range, the cargo, it delivers humanitarian, and it does a variety of missions.
“It’s going to be a while before the A400 proves as versatile as the C-130, and it will never be as affordable as the C-130. I would say the same thing for the KC-390. Jets are great and sexy,” Moss said. “They make the right sound, they go really fast, but when it comes to reliability, the C-130 and their turboprop engines have proven to be more reliable than just about any jet out there. When you’re talking about unimproved areas, I will hop on a 130 every single time.”
There are about 520 J models that have been delivered to 26 operators in 22 countries. There are 18 mission variants. Germany and France operate the C-130J and the A400M and view them as complementary, Lockheed said.