THE AIRFORCE - AIRCRAFT - C-130B/BZ HERCULES
The SAAF C-130 fleet consists of seven platforms (401 - 407) purchased in 1963 before a US arms embargo was imposed on South Africa's apartheid government and five received in 1997/8 from the US (two ex-USAF C-130B's (408 and 409) and three ex-USN C-130F's (410 - 412)) as part of their Excess Defence Articles programme.
The two ex-US C-130B 's and a C-130F (411) were subsequently put in service, but the C-130F was retired soon thereafter.
Various modifications have been accomplished on the original SAAF aircraft, the most significant being:
- Centre wing replacement and outer wing refurbishment from 1969 to 1972 done under the auspices of Lockheed Martin.
- Engine upgrade from Allison T56-A-7 to T56-A-15 during the early 1970's.
- Basic avionic upgrade during the early 1980's.
- Total avionic upgrade under Project Ebb from the late 1990's.
The two ex-USAF C-130B's had already been modified with the fitment of H-model outer wings and a centre wing similalr to that of the other SAAF aircraft.
The nine-strong fleet underwent a major refit from December 1996, when Marshall Aerospace of Cambridge in the UK and Denel was contracted to upgrade the aircraft as part of Project Ebb, fitting inter-alia digital avionics in the place of the electromechanical. The upgrade was not without delay and infighting between Marshalls and Denel and ran at least three years over its expected date of completion, set for June 2002. The project was finalised in July 2009.
The fate of one of the aircraft (402) is still in dispute. Its brakes caught fire during a landing after a test flight in early 2005 at the then-Johannesburg International Airport. Damage estimated in the millions of rand was inflicted on the aircraft and an equally damaging dispute then erupted between Denel and Marshalls as to whom had to carry the cost of the repairs. Another aircraft was also damaged while undergoing testing after upgrading - its fuel tanks were over-pressurised.