KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canadian pilots will be able to drop cargo to troops on the ground with far greater accuracy now that a new Hercules aircraft has arrived in southern Afghanistan.
The first of Canada’s new Hercules C-130J aircraft arrived at Kandahar Airfield over the weekend, with a second scheduled to arrive later this spring.
The new C-130J models will eventually replace the older, smaller and slower Hercules aircraft, which have been in service for nearly 50 years.
Some of the older aircraft have logged as many as 45,000 hours in the air — nearly double the flying time that they were meant for.
“The age of the aircraft is a big factor. We’ve extended their service life well beyond their intended use,” said Maj. Brad Wintrup, commanding officer of the tactical aviation unit, which is part of Canada’s Air Wing.
Aircraft maker Lockheed Martin wants to know how the Canadians managed to keep the old Hercules flying so long, he added.
The new aircraft look almost identical to the old ones, except that they are slightly longer and can seat up to 125 people instead of 92.
But that’s about where the similarities end. The new Hercules are largely automated and require fewer crew members.
Pilots say it will be easier to drop supplies to soldiers because a computer now calculates wind speed, weather conditions and other variables. The computer can hit a drop point within 30 metres. Before, when it was done manually, supplies could land much farther from the drop point.
“When we’re doing an air drop, the computer’s actually doing the drop and we’re monitoring it. So it tends to be much, much more accurate,” Wintrup said.
Most of the flying to ferry troops and equipment around Afghanistan is done by Canadians.
The Conservative government ordered 17 new Hercules aircraft from Lockheed Martin three years ago at a cost of $1.4 billion. So far, the company has delivered five aircraft. Two will be in Kandahar and the rest will be based at the air force base in Trenton, Ont.
The entire order is supposed to be filled by the end of 2012.
Other countries, including the United States, Britain and Australia, already fly the new Hercules aircraft.
Two new Hercules aircraft will arrive in Kandahar just as Canadian troops prepare to wind up their combat mission later this year.
A decision has not yet been made on whether the new aircraft will stay in Afghanistan after Canadian troops begin a training mission in Kabul in July.