Hercules' Newest Labor

The war in Iraq requires a lot of aerial refuelling and moving a lot of stuff between crappy little airstrips. No airplane is better at both tasks than the venerable C-130.Marine air_3.jpgAfter 40 years of building first-generation Hercules for dozens of customers all over the world, in the mid-1990s, Lockheed Martin switched to the new J model, which was supposed to be faster, longer-ranged and capable of carrying more cargo and fuel. But J customers have complained that new plane just isn't as capable or reliable as the older models. The Air Force took almost a decade getting its Js into battle, and now the Marines are following suit. Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 has deployed its KC-130J tanker-transports to Al Asad airbase in Iraq's Al Anbar province, the type's first foreign mission in Marine Corps service, and the news is good.The fighter pilots of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 rely on the KC-130s to extend their legs over western Iraq. So far, 332 has no complaints. The refuelers has been on time with the gas, which is more complicated than it sounds. Tanker crews have to be flexible and efficient to meet the fast-movers when and where they can -- and in unpredictable weather.Still, the C-130J was threatened with shutdown when the Defense Department went cost-cutting last December. Congress came to the rescue, but the Pentagon's classified Mobility Study might try again to cancel future buys. Meanwhile, the market for second-hand first-gen Hercules is white hot, and the Lockheed Martin facility in Greenville, S.C. is working full-time to recondition retired C-130s for resale to customers like Poland and Pakistan. Only time will tell if the J model wins the same loyalty.--David Axe

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