RAF C-130 Retirement

28/06/2023

On June 30th, following 56 years in active service with the UK, the Royal Air Force officially retired the venerable Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules.

The C-130 first entered RAF service in 1966, initially based at RAF Fairford. In 1971, the Hercules fleet left RAF Fairford and moved to RAF Lyneham, along with both 30 and 47 squadron, who had previously operated from Fairford. This brought a total of 7 C-130 squadrons to Lyneham, between them running a fleet of 66 aircraft. However, in 1978, 2 squadrons were disbanded and 13 aircraft were retired.

When the Falklands War started, the C-130 needed to step up its game and prove it could fly non-stop from the UK to the Falklands, and with that, the aircraft were fitted with air refuelling probes and were then capable of air to air refuelling, drastically improving it's capabilities. The C-130 didn't only start to take on fuel in the air though, six aircraft were also modified to be able to pass fuel onto aircraft working over the Falklands, such as Phantoms and Harriers. 

In 1978, the RAF was looking to further upgrade the C-130, possibly even with new airframes. An order was put in for 30 C-130K C.3 aircraft, 29 of which were able to receive fuel in-flight. Marshalls produced the vast majority of the aircraft, but more on Marshalls later...

Further to the upgrading program, 1994 saw the RAF looking at replacing the C-130K entirely. They then realised that, at the time, only one aircraft could replace the C-130K, and that was the C-130J. The first J touched down at Lyneham in 1997. The last C-130K was retired from service in 2013. The only surviving example in RAF colours is at the RAF Museum Cosford. 

The C-130K/Js were relocated to RAF Brize Norton in July 2011, ending their time at Lyneham with a 4 ship flypast as they headed to Oxfordshire. RAF Lyneham officially ceased flying at the end of September 2011, ending 40 years of Hercules operations at the Wiltshire base. 

Credit must go to the RAF website for most of the above info: https://www.raf.mod.uk/aircraft/hercules-c130j/

The RAF officially closed C-130 operations out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on June 4th, as ZH871 departed the base returning to Brize. This was the final British herc to fly out of Akrotiri. With that, over 21 years of constant C-130 operations on the Island came to a close. As of recent, the Hercules was flying from Akrotiri in support of Operation Shader and rescuing British nationals from Sudan as part of the Sudan crisis.

Over the years the RAF applied special tail art to the Hercules as the squadrons they operated with or the type themselves celebrated an anniversary. Seen below is 2 of the 3 special tails that were applied within the last few years. ZH866 can be seen below painted up in celebration of 100 years of 206 Squadron, ZH880 celebrating 100 years of 47 Squadron, and ZH883 celebrating 50 years of C-130 service in 2016. Unfortunately, I never caught ZH880, but the art looked fantastic!

RAF Brize Norton shared a post across their social media on June 6th that showed off tail art that had been applied to ZH870, one of the last remaining aircraft. It was lacking in design and received a fair amount of backlash from the majority of spotters and aviation enthusiasts. It tore me, as on one hand, it was nice they had at least made an effort, but what they came up with didn't feel like it did the aircraft justice, especially considering how long it has spent serving the UK.  

The stickers first came onto the scene in 2018 as the RAF celebrated its 100th birthday. Despite the huge celebrations with flypasts and such, the aircraft (ZH887) was only what is seen below to commemorate the occasion.

A retirement flypast involving 3 aircraft (ZH868, ZH870 & ZH871) was performed on June 14th. The planned sortie time was around 7 hours. It encompassed many places that were of importance to the aircraft. The link to the route flown can be seen in the link below:

https://www.raf.mod.uk/news/articles/a-flypast-to-mark-the-forthcoming-retirement-of-the-hercules-from-raf-service/

The 3 aircraft overflew every destination as planned and even threw in a bit of low level flying around the Mach Loop and the Lake District. Due to a melting runway at Brize Norton (again), all 3 arrived into RAF Fairford just shy of 17:20. They made the very short hop home later in the evening, leaving Fairford just before 20:00.  

The final operational flight from the British C-130s came on June 17th when 3 overflew Buckingham Palace as part of Trooping the Colour. My write up on this event can be found here: Trooping the Colour - RAF Brize Norton

Following their final operational sortie, each C-130 was flown to Cambridge Airport for retirement. Cambridge Airport is home to Marshalls Aerospace, the leading C-130 maintenance company. Marshalls has been performing both light and deep maintenance on Hercs for 57 years. They now have contracts with over 17 nations to maintain and upgrade their C-130 fleet, whether they are older C-130Hs or the more modern C-130Js. 

To see these great workhorses retire from RAF service whilst the likes of Germany and the USA are receiving new ones is surprising to say the least. Other armed forces including the Bangladeshi Air Force, Bahraini Air Force, and US Navy have acquired ex-RAF airframes already. Belgium's retired C-130s are now on strength with the Pakistani Air Force, and the Austrian Air Force continues to operate ex-RAF C-130s that Britain retired in 2002 following 36 years of service, although they have been extensively modernized.

The Hercs replacement aircraft is none other than the Airbus A400M Atlas C.1, an aircraft that is becoming a capable candidate for fulfilling the C-130s role in RAF service. As with most new aircraft, however, the Atlas hasn't been immune to problems, from 'chocolate gearboxes' to corrosion in and around the undercarriage. There was a time when almost every trip to RAF Brize Nortons Black Bourton gate would result in seeing 3 or 4 A400s stripped of their propellers! Lots of people continue to express their opinions about retiring the C-130, and, while it is a great shame, I'm sure that people will be just as upset when the Atlas bows out of RAF service in however many years time. 

I will always have good memories of watching these, whether it be an engine run, a departure or just to see them parked up. Black Bourton crash gate won't be the same without them!

Nili Nomen Roboris Omen!

ZH865 - Retired May 16th, 2023

ZH866 - Retired March 20th, 2023

ZH867 - Retired June 28th, 2023

ZH868 - Retired June 20th, 2023

ZH869 - Retired May 24th, 2023

ZH870 - Retired June 28th, 2023

ZH871 - Retired June 21st, 2023

ZH872 - Retired February 9th, 2023

ZH873 - Written off August 25th, 2017

ZH874 - Retired September 12th, 2022

ZH875 - Retired April 7th, 2022

ZH876 - Destroyed on February 13th, 2007, following a hard landing the day prior

ZH877 - Retired January 30th, 2023

ZH878 -  Retired December 19th, 2022

ZH879 - Retired February 28th, 2023

ZH880 - To Bahraini Air Force as 701

ZH881 - To Bangladeshi Air Force as 99-5479

ZH882 - To Bangladeshi Air Force as 99-5480

ZH883 - To Bangladeshi Air Force as 99-5481

ZH884 - To Bangladeshi Air Force as 99-5482

ZH885 - To United States Navy as 170000 - Blue Angels 'Fat Albert'

ZH886 - To Bahraini Air Force as 702

ZH887 - To Bangladeshi Air Force as 99-5485

ZH888 - Retired December 8th, 2020

ZH889 - Retired June 16th, 2023