The South African Air Force (SAAF) has withdrawn one of its nine modernized Lockheed Martin C-130BZ Hercules aircraft from use.
The latest issue of the official SAAF magazine, Ad Astra, says the outer wings of aircraft 407 were removed in 2005 for fatigue investigation at the behest of the original equipment manufacturer.
The aircraft was subsequently cannibalised and never returned to service.
The SAAF acquired seven C130B aircraft (401 – 407) in 1963.
In 1997/8 the USA donated two ex-USAF C-130B (408 and 409) and three ex-USN C-130F Hercules aircraft as part of their Excess Defence Articles programme. At the time the SAAF also decided to upgrade the entire Hercules fleet.
The two ex-US C-130B’s and a C-130F were subsequently put in service, but the C-130F was retired soon thereafter.
The balance of the two C-130F`s were never placed into service because of major airframe corrosion and it was considered too expensive to upgrade the F version to the new SAAF standard.
The nine-strong fleet underwent a major refit from December 1996, when Marshall Aerospace of Cambridge in the UK and Denel were contracted to upgrade the aircraft as part of Project Ebb, fitting, inter-alia, digital avionics in the place of the electromechanical instrumentation.
The first C-130B to complete the full avionic upgrade to C-130BZ standard was aircraft 407.
Formal customer acceptance of 407 took place at Cambridge on 24 July 2000.
In December 2004, Lockheed-Martin, the manufacturer of the aircraft, advised all operators of the Hercules that potential existed for cracks to develop in the outer wing area.
In order to establish evidence of potential cracking, the wings would have to be disassembled and the potential problem area scrutinised.
As a result, the SAAF grounded their Hercules fleet as a safety measure in February 2005 and the first aircraft to undergo such an inspection was aircraft 407. It now appears that the aircraft was never returned to service as parts were taken off the aircraft and used on the rest of the Hercules fleet.
The upgrade project had a few stumbles when aircraft 403 had to undergo contractual repairs and modifications when it was damaged during fuel tank pressurisation testing prior to redelivery to the SAAF.
Aircraft 402 is still in the process of being upgraded after receiving fire damage on 8 October 2004 when the brakes caught fire during ground taxi tests. A protracted legal battled then ensued to determine which of Denel or Marshall were liable for the repairs.
The SAAF had planned to retire the C130 from next year with the delivery of the first of eight Airbus A400M Loadmaster transport aircraft ordered in 2003. The A400M programme has however been delayed by between three and five years and it is unclear when deliveries will start.
Air Force chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano has said the bulk of the C130 fleet has sufficient air frame life to stay in service until the arrival of the A400M.