Making a welcome appearance here at AAD is a Lockheed Martin LC-130H. This version of the Hercules is equipped with skis for landing on snow and ice during polar operations. The example on show here sports a new modification, having recently been fitted with new-generation eight-bladed NP2000 propellers.
Today the last remaining operator of the 'Ski-bird' is the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard. The unit is based during the northern hemisphere summer at Stratton ANGB near Schenectady, New York, operating Arctic missions mainly to Canada and Greenland, where training also takes place.
However, in the austral summer up to seven LC-130Hs deploy to Christchurch International Airport, New Zealand. From there they fly transport missions to the ice runway at Williams Field in Antarctica, which serves both US and New Zealand scientific research bases. The aircraft's mission is known as Operation Deep Freeze, and is the US Department of Defense's main contribution to the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Program.
The LC-130H is appearing at AAD as part of the participation by the New York Air National Guard, which has had a training and exchange relationship with the SANDF since 2003 through the National Guard's State Partnership Program.
As well as the 'Ski-bird', the New York Air National Guard has sent a Boeing C-17A from the 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart ANGB, and an Army NG detachment from the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team based at Patriot Way Armory in Rochester, which is showing a Textron RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle.
Ski-equipped Hercules have been around since 1960, undertaking the support of scientific programmes and remote Arctic military installations.
However, the 109th's aircraft are the last to be flown on polar transport missions, and their tasks are now primarily concerned with scientific projects.
To improve their performance, the aircraft's Rolls-Royce T56 engines are now fitted with the UTC Aerospace Systems NP2000 propeller, which sports eight scimitar blades that improve low-speed thrust while significantly reducing noise and vibration levels. Maintenance requirements are also reduced.
From 2004 the NP2000 was fitted to the US Navy's fleet of E-2 Hawkeye AEW aircraft and related C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery transports.
The seven LC-130Hs were the first Hercules to receive the new propellers, and are being followed by standard US Air Force C-130H transports. The US Marine Corps has ordered upgrades for 24 of its C/KC-103Hs, while the NP2000 is soon to be adopted by the P-3 Orion.
'Ski-bird' Hercules are no strangers to South Africa: the earlier LC-130F version made the ski-equipped aircraft's first flight from South Africa to Antarctica on 1 October 1963, when two aircraft from US Navy squadron VX-6 flew from Cape Town to McMurdo, a day after two more LC-130Fs had arrived from Christchurch.
Over the years the importance of Cape Town as an Antarctic departure point has increased because it is the closest to the Russian scientific establishment at Novolazarevskaya. Since 2001, Antarctic Logistics Centre International has been using Russian Il-76s to fly into its 'Novo' runway from Cape Town, as well as operating internal Antarctic flights using ski-equipped Basler BT-67 Turbo-Dakotas and DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft.