December 2, 2011 By Stephen Trimble - The DEW Line
Lockheed Martin has quietly launched two new variants of the 57-year-old (and counting!) C-130 Hercules. The C-130XJ and the C-130NG both appeared in a presentation by Ralph Heath, executive vice president of Lockheed's Aeronautics division, on 1 December at the Credit Suisse aerospace and defense conference in New York.
Few details of both configurations have been made available so far. The C-130XJ is aimed at the export market, and is designed to make the aircraft affordable to a broader set of foreign buyers, Heath said. The "X" in the designation stands for "expandable", Heath added, and buyers can upgrade to the C-130J's full capability.
It appears the C-130NG, which includes winglets and a redesigned nose and tail, will be offered after 2020 to replace the C-130H fleet. See a comparison between the old and new versions of the C-130J and C-130NG below.
Nearly 60 years has passed since Lockheed designer Willis Hawkins first unveiled the C-130 design. His legendary boss, Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, instantly hated the aircraft, warning Lockheed chief engineer Hal Hibbard the C-130 would "ruin" the company. Johnson was right about many things, such as his designs for the U-2 and SR-71, but he was completely wrong about the C-130. Rather than ruining the company, the C-130 series will be produced for at least 65 years, and possibly longer.
In the last several years, the C-130's reign over the tactical airlift market has been challenged like never before. The Airbus Military A400M and Kawasaki C-2 offer a larger platform as airlift demand increases, although the latter is forbidden to be sold outside of Japan. Meanwhile, the Embraer KC-390 and the Antonov An-178 are designed to compete directly against the C-130, albeit with a jet-powered aircraft.