First flown by the Lockheed Corporation in 1954, the C-130 Hercules is one of the world's most iconic and versatile transport planes. Following its entry into U.S. Air Force service in 1956, allied nations like Australia and the United Kingdom quickly added the C-130 to their airlift fleets. However, in 2023, the British RAF is retiring the mighty Hercules from service.
Officially, the RAF will stand down the C-130 and 47 Squadron that flies it on June 30, 2023. To celebrate the aircraft's service and retirement, a trio of C-130s flew over locations of significance in England, Wales, North Ireland and Scotland. On June 14, 2023, the Hercules Farewell Flypast took the planes to cities and towns like Beverley in East Yorkshire and Royal Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire. The former is where 47 Squadron was formed in 1916, and the latter hosted hundreds of repatriation ceremonies for fallen military personnel flown by the C-130.
In RAF service, the Hercules performed military and humanitarian airlifts around the world. Recently, it participated in evacuations from Afghanistan and Sudan. The C-130 will always be a special aircraft for the personnel who flew these missions. "I have some fantastic memories. There is a huge swelling of pride of being the first aircraft in and last aircraft out of Afghanistan, supporting the humanitarian aid there," Warrant Officer Scott Drinkel told the BBC. "Everybody pulls together so well, even very recently when we have been tasked with other operations, such as Polar Bear - the Sudanese effort - very close to the end of the Herc, we are still a valuable asset, so I have huge pride in 47 Squadron."
Replacing the C-130 in the RAF's Air Mobility Force is the Airbus A400 Atlas. The A400 features a greater cargo capacity and flying range than the C-130. However, the new aircraft is still working through introductory issues, and only one-third of the A400 fleet was listed as available for flying in early May 2023. The Hercules remains in service with the United States, and the UK is selling its C-130s, with years of flight time left, to other nations. "Of the many cuts to our armed forces in recent years, one of the most perverse is the disposal of the RAF's remaining 14 C130 transport aircraft," wrote former RAF chiefs Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon and Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns in a letter to The Times. "At a time of great international tension, the decision to remove a proven and effective workhorse is extraordinary."