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C-130 News: Why Marietta Still Makes The C-130 Aircraft After 60 Years

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5685578002236_2015-12-23Marietta60Years.

When Lockheed designed the C-130 Hercules in Marietta in the 1950s, company engineer Kelly Johnson said they would be lucky to sell a hundred.

In 2015, Tony Frese, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and deputy program manager of C-130 Programs, delivered number 2,500.

“Here we are 60 years later,” said Frese. “So we always are quite thankful that Kelly Johnson, a brilliant man, got that one piece wrong.”

That engineer, Johnson, was working on sleek reconnaissance jets. The Hercules, by comparison, is clunky, with large propellers, a heavy tail and a belly big enough to fit a bulldozer.

 But that’s been the massive transport plane’s secret to long life. In fact, at 60 years, the C-130 Hercules is the longest continually produced military aircraft in the world.

Richard Aboulafia studies aviation trends for the Teal Group. He compared the C-130 to a Coelacanth, a sea creature that escaped extinction.

“That ancient fish that was hauled up and, well, there it is, still alive,” Aboulafia said. “And it’s alive for all the right reasons: it’s really good at what it does.”

What the C-130 does, simply, is cart things or people around for the military. So it’s used for a wide range of purposes, including special operations, search and rescue missions and humanitarian relief. It can refuel other aircraft in flight. Sometimes a C-130 does coastal patrol.

“Basically, it’s a terrific jack of all trades,” said Aboulafia. “And since its success isn’t based upon some kind of high tech whiz-bang performance, like stealth or speed or anything like that, that basic design from the 50s is still quite relevant today.”

Most military aircraft programs last 20-30 years before losing ground to new technology. With the Hercules, Lockheed Martin can just add technology to the same proven plane. While the price can vary, the basic version of the latest model costs something in the realm of $70 million.

With 60 years of production at the same facility, entire families in Marietta have been tied to the aircraft.

At the C-130 plant, Kim Gunter is helping build the latest Hercules. His father, Gunter said, worked on the very first.

“We’ve been on every one of the them,” said Gunter. “So it’s a neat plane, a cool plane and I’m glad to be here working on it.”

Back when Lockheed assembled multiple aircrafts in Marietta, the facility had 33,000 employees. Now there are fewer than 6,000, who mainly work on the C-130 program. Living here, Gunter said he has seen the benefits. 

“The best thing that ever happened to Marietta was that C-130 coming over here and being built here,” Gunter said. “You know, it’s good times, bad times, with orders and stuff like that. But we keep selling them.”

They keep selling them because the U.S. military relies on them on a daily basis, said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Hercules, Harrison points out, has remained in production not only during conflicts going back to the Vietnam War -- but also after them.

“And so this program has really seen the ups and downs of the budget cycle over the decades,” Harrison said. “And nevertheless it has survived, and if you look at current plans right now we’ll continue buying C-130s out through the late 2020s.

The plane also has an international market. France, the home of Airbus, is now considering buying four.

As for the 2,500th Hercules aircraft that took off from Marietta, it was sold to the U.S. Air Force. It too could end up anywhere in the world, depending on where there’s a need.

568558b72f30a_2015-12-23Marietta60Years2

Source: WABE.org


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