C-130 LIFE EXTENSION PROJECT: Acceptance of First AircraftDefence
Today is a day we have been waiting for. We are accepting back into service the first C-130 Hercules to have been through the Life Extension Project.
You will have heard the expression about putting old wine into new bottles. This project was about putting new wine into old bottles. But we also took the old bottles and polished the glass, changed the tops and made sure that they are fit for many more years yet.
It has been a long and sometimes difficult road. I don't think any of us anticipated just how hard it would be. What seemed on the face of it to be quite straightforward ended up being anything but.
However, when you consider that the RNZAF was one of the first customers for the C-130H model Hercules, and that the first three were purchased in 1965, the magnitude of the task becomes more obvious.
Not only are these aircraft getting on in years, they have been hard-worked. There has not been any operation beyond our shores, large or small, that has not depended on our Hercules.
This long and faithful service is a tribute to the men and women across three generations who fly, service and maintain these aircraft. I would also note that we still have the same five we started with.
I also want to acknowledge the excellent work that has enabled us to meet our air transport commitments whilst being two aircraft down for so long. This has been demanding, and at times has left us very stretched.
Rebuilding these aircraft is not like restoring an old car. We don't only fly them on fine Sundays. They have to meet contemporary operational demands on the battlefield and in 21st century airspace.
Looking at the aircraft behind me, it doesn't seem to be very different. However, under the skin it is another story.
The changes are most obvious on the flight deck. The cockpit is transformed. The communications and navigation equipment are state of the art.
Elsewhere in the aircraft is a modern self-protection system. All critical mechanical and avionic components have been upgraded. Key structural components have been replaced.
A few months ago, I looked over the second aircraft which was being worked on in Woodbourne. I was amazed at the amount of work that was being done. It was evident that the quality and workmanship was world-class.
What does this new capability actually mean?
It means that the aircraft will be able to undertake take-offs and landings from unlit strips at night using night vision goggles.
It means that operations into high-risk areas, such as Afghanistan, will be able to be undertaken with a higher degree of safety and certainty.
It means that the aircraft will be compatible with modern civilian and military air traffic management systems.
It means higher reliability and greater availability.
As part of the project we have also obtained a dedicated part-task trainer for the C-130. The systems in this aircraft are significantly different and more capable than the old ones. The trainer will significantly assist pilot conversion and continuation training, and allow more hours to be flown on front-line tasks.
Today's aircraft is the result of the combined efforts of many people in L3 Communications, the Ministry of Defence, the RNZAF, and Safe Air.
I particularly want to acknowledge:
- L3's representative, Ev MacKinnon, the Programme Manager based at Blenheim
- Norm Thompson, Air New Zealand Deputy Chief Executive and Trevor Hughes, General Manager, Air New Zealand Engineering
- Heather Deacon, General Manager of Safe Air
- All those from the RNZAF and the Ministry of Defence who have, since 2007, been involved with the Project Team. I know that some of them, particularly Wing Commander Frank Dyer from the RNZAF and Kevin McMahon from the Ministry, have been with the project since it began.
With the arrival of this aircraft we can now begin the process of bringing it into operation. The second aircraft is nearly completed and will quickly follow.
With them back in service, we can get the next one into the system. Our plan will be to do them one at a time from now on, so that we will always have four available, rather than three.
The responsibility for the remaining aircraft will fall on the team which is being assembled by the Ministry of Defence in Blenheim. We are committed to keeping the skills and the work to finish the job here.
We also look forward to the continued assistance of Safe Air and Air New Zealand as we complete the upgrade project.
The revitalised aircraft will see us through the next decade, by which time the Hercules will be ready for a well-earned retirement and a replacement will be chosen.
There are a lot of C-130H model Hercules in service around the world. I hope that all the participants in this project can take what we have learnt and be involved in refitting aircraft for other countries.
In conclusion, today marks the end of a long journey.
From the Antarctic to Afghanistan, from Samoa to the Sinai, our Hercules fly people and freight on everything from scientific support to humanitarian aid.
We depend on these aircraft. So do our South Pacific neighbours, and our friends and allies around the globe. They will all be pleased to know that the project has reached this milestone.
Welcome home, NZ 7004.
It only remains for me to now to formally accept back into the RNZAF this upgraded aircraft.
In doing so I wish the RNZAF and NZDF well as they begin the transition to this more capable aircraft.