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C-130 Hercules: The Backbone of RAAF Air Transport for 65 Years

This year, Air Force celebrates 65 years of operating an Air Mobility Group workhorse, the C-130 Hercules.

The C-130 platform has long been the backbone of RAAF air transport and has played a significant role within 36 Squadron and 37 Squadron, operating from RAAF Base Richmond.

The C-130J variant of the ‘Herc’ is the one currently in use.

In 1958, Air Force received 12 of the initial C-130A variant, making Australia the first country to operate the aircraft outside of the United States.

Operated by 36 Squadron until 1978, the C-130A was replaced by the C-130H, and continued operation until 2006 when the C-130Hs were transferred to 37 Squadron, continuing until they were decommissioned in 2012.

In 1966, the re-formed 37 Squadron became the operational unit of 12 newly purchased C-130E models, in an effort to meet increasing demand for domestic and international support, especially during the Vietnam War period.

Throughout the years the C-130E would continue to prove itself a reliable platform, and undergo over 300,000 hours of accident-free flying hours prior to its retirement in 2000.

The C-130E was replaced by the C-130J, which is still being operated at RAAF Base Richmond today.

Collectively, the suite of C-130 Hercules used by Air Force has impressively flown more than 850,000 hours: C-130A (1958 to 1978) – 148,063.6 hours; C-130E (1966 to 2000) – 307,007.9 hours; C-130H (1978 to 2012) – 244,618.4 hours; and C-130J (1999 to present) – 156,857.3 hours.

Upgrades throughout the years to the C-130 fleet have provided technical advancements to enhance mission effectiveness and assist aircrew and maintenance personnel.

Former 36 Squadron aircraft technician, and now 37 Squadron Warrant Officer, Warrant Officer Peter Ranson, remembers when things were different.

“Five aircrew were required to operate the older C-130 variants,” Warrant Officer Ranson said.

“Today, Air Force’s more modern C-130J requires only a three-crew minimum to operate.”

Enhancing performance, increasing range, and improving avionics contributes to the vital role the C-130J Hercules has played and continues to play in Defence operations and integration with partner nations worldwide.

These include, but are not limited to, Operations Falconer, Catalyst, Slipper, Accordion, Highroad and Okra (Middle East Operations from 2001 to 2021); Operation Solance (Somalia); Operation Tamar (Rhwanda); and The International Force East Timor (INTERFET) Operations.

Across the decades, the Hercules has also worked collaboratively globally to deliver humanitarian assistance through operations such as Pakistan Assist, Bali Assist, Fiji Assist, Padang Assist, Bush Fire Assist 20 and Flood Assists 20/21/21.

President of 37 Squadron Association, Col Coyne, served for 22 years with Air Force and was a loadmaster with 37 Squadron from 1981 to 1990.

“I was fortunate to work on a wide variety of tasking ranging from routine scheduled services to RAAF Bases within Australia and overseas, to military exercise deployment/redeployment, and medical evacuations, natural disaster and humanitarian response missions,” Mr Coyne said.

“The C-130J Hercules basically looks the same as the first ones received in 1958, but with ongoing improvements it has maintained the versatility it brought to Defence 65 years ago.”

To commemorate 65 years of C-130 Hercules operations, the 37 Squadron Association will be hosting a function on September 8 at the Clarendon Tavern, opposite RAAF Base Richmond.

The event will celebrate and bring together members both past and present who contributed to the operation of all C-130 Hercules variants throughout the last 65 years, and honour not merely an aircraft, but a symbol of Australia’s commitment to service, humanitarian assistance and global cooperation.