The C-130H aircraft is the military’s primary combat delivery aircraft and has provided humanitarian assistance, precision airdrop and tactical airlift across the globe for more than 40 years. By 2015 the C-130H fleet was flown by Air National Guard units in Delaware and 17 additional states.
Similar to the E model, the C-130H has updated T56-A-T5 turboprops, a redesigned outer wing, updated avionics, and other minor improvements. The C-130E/H carries 6,700 gallons of fuel in six integral wing tanks. Under each wing of the C-130E/H is an external pylon fuel tank with a capacity of 1,300 gallons. A pressure refueling point is in the aft side wheel well fairing for ground refueling. As a response to the role played by the tactical airlift fleet in Operation Just Cause and in the Persian Gulf War, Congress approved the procurement of more C-130H's to replace the aging E models. Delivery began in July 1974 [other sources state April 1975]. More than 350 C-130Hs and derivatives were ordered for active and reserve units of the US services, including eight funded in FY 1996.
Production of the H has now ended. Units in Military Airlift Command, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are equipped with this model. The Night Vision Instrumentation System was introduced from 1993; TCAS II in new aircraft from 1994. ANG and AFRC C-130Hs are used in fire-fighting missions. Specifically modified aircraft are used by the 757th AS, AFRC, based at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport ARS, Ohio, for aerial spraying, typically to suppress mosquito-spread epidemics. Seven LC-130Hs, modified with wheel-ski gear, are operated by ANG's 109th AW in support of Arctic and Antarctic operations.
C-130H-model enhancements include features to improve maintainability, reliability, protection and performance. The Lockheed aircraft boasts state-of-the-art avionics and more powerful engines, which increase its allowable cargo load, range and altitude capability. It was designed to better protect its aircrews by using sensor equipment that warns of oncoming aircraft or incoming missiles. It is also equipped with dispensers that release chaff and flares that decoy enemy missiles away from the aircraft. Other enhancements include Global Positioning System, Low Power Color Radar and night-vision interior lighting that allows aircrews to use night-vision goggles for operations in very low light conditions.
The Center Wing Replacement program replaces aging center wing structure on C-130H model aircraft whose service life expires in 2005-2010. Aircraft will be retained in inventory until 2030. Center Wing kits were purchased and then installed at the depot over a period of FY05-12. This program was funded for 55 Cargo C-130H models.
The 418th Flight Test Squadron out of Edwards Air Force Base completed flight tests for the C-130 minimum control speed project in early 2004. The data obtained by the team proved that minimum control speeds can be reduced. As a direct result of this test effort, the test team improved safety and lowered risk for operational C-130 aircrews deployed throughout the world. The team concluded that if an engine failure occurred prior to reaching rotation speed, continuing takeoff was a safer course of action than aborting while still on the runway.
The test team demonstrated that Vmca with one engine inoperative and Vmcg using aero controls were both lower than those charted in the current USAF flight manuals. The C-130 SPO and Lockheed will use the flight test data to update the USAF flight manuals and the C-130 SPO will provide the data to all DoD C-130 operators. As a direct result of this test effort, USAF C-130 aircrews will be able to operate into and out of short, austere airfields with larger payloads. This capability translates into a sizeable increase in cargo hauling capability, consisting of both manpower and materiel. Virtually no airfield anywhere in the world today is off limits to a C-130, the workhorse of the United States Military's tactical airlift fleet.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress 18 October 2011 of a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Argentina for commercial-off-the-shelf avionics upgrade of five C-130H aircraft, as well as associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $166 million. The Government of Argentina has requested a possible purchase of commercial-off-the-shelf avionics upgrade of five (5) C-130H aircraft that includes minor Class IV modifications, ground handling equipment, repair and return, spare and repair parts, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, tools and test equipment, personnel training and training equipment, programmed depot maintenance, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services, and other related elements of program support.
The C-130 has been around since the Vietnam War, forming the backbone of the Air Force's tactical airlift fleet. It is especially well-suited to austere conditions like those found throughout Afghanistan. The H models performed fantastic work in the area of responsibility, virtually every day flying six or seven legs around Afghanistan, with hardly a maintenance issue. The C-130H model at Bagram was truly outstanding. They were the oldest C-130 fleet in the AOR, flying the highest utilization rate, yet they continually boasted the highest mission capability rate in the AOR. Despite the fact that some of the aircraft erre 40 years old, the older C-130H model enjoyed an enviable run, with a 94 percent reliability rate flying out of Bagram. The C-130J model was expected to increase that number.
The older C-130H models were replaced in 2013 by the newer, more modern C-130J models. The newer model had the advantage of a longer fuselage offering two additional pallet positions for additional airlift capacity, an updated cockpit, more efficient engines and propellers, and other improvements.
Inside, the C-130J is a whole new aircraft. In the cockpit, there are digital panels up front, so it takes a new breed of maintainers to fix all those new items. Enhancements for the C-130J aircraft include a modern glass cockpit with digital avionics, an improved electrical system, new engines and propellers, and an enhanced cargo handling and delivery system. In addition, the C-130J aircraft requires only a three-person flight crew instead of a five-person flight crew that the previous C-130H version required. Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer, discontinued production of the military C-130H version in 1997 and promoted the C-130J as a commercial aircraft to replace aging C130 aircraft.
Unless the C-130H fleet is modernized, the aircraft will be inoperable in 2020 due to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and international safety regulations. Since 2011 the Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) had been the designated program to upgrade the C-130H fleet to ensure compliance with national and international regulations before the 2020 deadline. Due to significant cost overruns, the U.S. Air Force announced in 2012 that it wanted to abandon the AMP program and pursue a more fiscally responsible solution. A cost-benefit study, mandated by Congress, found that modernizing just the navigation systems of the C-130H fleet would cost a quarter of the AMP program, resulting in savings of $12 million per aircraft while still allowing the C-130H models to meet all flight and airspace safety requirements by 2020.
On 25 November 2015 US Representative Sam Graves’ amendment protecting the fleet of C-130H aircraft was adopted into law when President Obama signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The amendment, which authorized $10 million toward the Air Force’s plan to modernize and preserve the aircraft, was included in multiple versions of this year’s NDAA bills that passed both the House and Senate. “For decades, the C-130H has been a critical component of National Guard units across the country, particularly in St. Joe," Rep. Graves said. “The aircraft provides tactical support to our troops on the ground, protecting them from enemies and allowing them to more safely and effectively execute the missions that are critical to our national defense."