When the Danish Armed Forces need to move large amounts of goods or personnel, the task is given to 721 Squadron’s Hercules Flight. The Flight is based at Aalborg Air Base, also known as Air Transport Wing (ATW) Aalborg, located in northern Jutland.
721 Squadrons Hercules Flight is equipped with four Lockheed C-130J-30 Hercules aircraft. The first of these were delivered in 2004 but the unit’s first encounter with the C-130 was back in 1975, when three C-130H’s were delivered to Værløse Air Base, which back then was the unit’s home base. The H models replaced the aging Douglas C-54D/G Skymaster and the C-47 Skytrain as the primary transport aircraft in the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF).
As the Danish Armed Forces started to become more involved in international operations around the world, the need for tactical air transport increased.
Despite numerous upgrades, the H models were starting to show their age and on 1st of December 2000, the Danish government signed a contract with Lockheed Martin (now Lockheed) for three C-130J-30 Hercules, with the option for one more. The -30 version of the C-130J is a stretched version whereby 15 feet (approximately 4.5 meters) has been added to the fuselage to expand the cargo hold.
The first C-130J-30 (B-536) for RDAF was delivered on 1st March 2004 which coincided with the units move from Værløse Air Base to its current home at Aalborg Air Base. The next two aircraft were delivered on 15 March (B-537) and 5 April (B-538).
In 2006 it was decided to take out the option for the fourth aircraft and B-583 was delivered to Aalborg Air Base on 15 July 2007. The three old C-130H airframes were sold to Lockheed as part of the deal. These were then later sold to Egypt.
The first three C-130J-30 were delivered in Block 5.4 standard and the forth in Block 6.1 standard. After the delivery of the fourth airframe, the first three were sent to Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge and upgraded to Block 6.1 standard.
Block 6.1 upgraded the C-130J-30 in a number of ways compared to the 5.4. The upgrades included a higher maximum takeoff weight (up from 70,308 kg to 74,390 kg), enhanced performance during operations in hot or cold climate and an upgrade to the hydraulic pump used to open the cargo ramp, so that it is now possible to open the ramp at altitudes up to 35,000 feet (10.5 km) as opposed to 15,000 feet (4.5 km).
Denmark is a member of the C-130J Joint User Group which means that the four Hercules will receive continues upgrades. The next planned will most likely be a double-upgrade as a delayed Block 7 package will be combined with the Block 8 upgrade.
This will among other things, give the Hercules Link 16 secure data communication, a new Flight Management System (FMS) based on the FMS from a Boeing 737 and a GPS, which is certified to be used during GPS approaches to civilian airports. It has not yet been decided when these upgrades will start though.
Before work on any upgrades can begin, all four airframes have to go through a D-check, which is performed after ten years in service. B-536 was the first aircraft to be flown to Marshall Aerospace for this work and it returned to Aalborg Air Base in August 2015. Once B-536 had returned, B-538 was sent to have its D-check performed. During a D-check, the aircraft is almost completely taken apart and all systems are checked and put back together again. This means that while the D-checks and block upgrades are happening, the unit will only have three aircraft available.
As the Danish Armed Forces have become more involved in international missions, the squadron have been very busy flying personnel and equipment all over the globe in support. This has resulted in many missions to and from Afghanistan and more recently to Kuwait where seven Danish F-16’s were deployed in the fight against IS.
The C-130J-30 is also often used to transport VIP’s into high-threat areas. The aircraft is equipped with advanced systems for electronic warfare and self-protection. These systems are developed by the Danish company Terma A/S and are centred on the AN/ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System (EWMS) which is also used in the Danish F-16’s.
The EWMS controls the AN/ALR-69 Radar Warning Receiver, the AN/AAR-54 Missile Approach Warning System, the ALQ-162 Electronic Countermeasures Jammer and an advanced chaff and flare dispenser system developed by Terma A/S. All of this equipment plus armour plating on the aircraft makes it much more capable of flying in high-threat areas than the CL-604 Challengers that usually handle VIP transport for the Royal Danish Air Force.
FLYING OVER GREENLAND
In addition to all the missions flown to support Danish troops, the unit also flies a lot to Greenland in order to deliver supplies to the Danish garrison stationed there. When the C-130J-30 flies missions to Greenland, they are mostly flown as single missions and not as a part of what is called “Luftgruppe Vest” (Air group West), such as when the Challenger flies over Greenland.
The Hercules does sometimes fly as a stand-in for the Challenger in Luftgruppe Vest when the former are busy on international missions such as Operation Ocean Shield. Thanks to the ability to land and take off on very short runways, down to 800 meters and the ability to use grass and gravel runways, the C-130J-30 can operate from most runways in Greenland and around the world.
Because of the upgraded engines with better fuel economy compared to the H model, the C-130J-30 is capable of flying nonstop from its base at Aalborg to Greenland if the weather conditions and the weight of the load are within the limits.
Usually a flight to Greenland is planned with a fuel stop in Iceland basically to ensure that there is enough fuel to reach an alternative runway if the runway at the destination suddenly closes due to bad weather. On the day of the flight, it is then decided if the fuel stop at Iceland is necessary or if it is possible to fly directly to the destination.
The minimum crew of the C-130J-30 is two pilots and a loadmaster but on most missions the unit flies with two pilots and two loadmasters. On longer missions a crew chief is often brought along as well. The advantage of taking a crew chief on a mission is that he is not limited in the number of hours he can work with the aircraft.
This means that the crew chief can stay behind and work on any problems that may have arisen during the flight while the pilots and loadmaster can get the required rest and be ready to continue with the mission the next day.
The new advanced systems in the cockpit of the C-130J-30 have meant that the crew have been reduced from five in the H model (two pilots, a navigator, an engineer and a radio operator) to just two pilots. One of the big differences from the H model is that the J model has dual Head Up Displays (HUD), one for each pilot.
On the HUD the pilots can get all the information they need to fly the aircraft and accomplish the mission. The HUD comes in especially useful when flying low-level or in high-threat areas where the crew constantly needs to visually check their surroundings.
721 Squadron has nine crews in total. Because of the large number of different missions the unit performs, each crewmember is specially trained in one area, i.e. flying with Special Forces or visually dropping Search and Rescue (SAR) equipment over the ocean. All crews are trained in all missions, but gain the highest possible level of expertise by focusing on specific areas.
THE HERCULES’ TASKS
The primary mission for the C-130J-30 is to move personnel or cargo from point A to point B. It is however not always possible to land at the location the cargo or personnel needs to be delivered to. For this reason the floor in the cargo compartment is equipped with rollers, which means the cargo can be dropped out the rear of the aircraft with parachute.
The cargo is dropped inside containers which can weigh up to one ton each. Because of the stretched cargo compartment, a total of 24 one-ton containers can be carried at any one time.
When dropping cargo by parachute, all the necessary information such as coordinates for the drop zone, the direction, height and speed the aircraft will be traveling and so on, is entered into the flight computer, which then calculates exactly when the cargo needs to be released. This means that the pilot only has to concentrate on flying the aircraft within the correct parameters.
The squadron does still practice visual manual drops of equipment though in case of equipment failure. They have recently started practicing manual drops of SAR equipment to people in distress in open waters. During such drops it is up to the pilot to alert the loadmasters when the equipment should be dropped in order for it to reach the people in distress. This capability will mainly be used when flying over the Arctic Circle.
When personnel leave the Hercules using parachute, it is usually done by a static line jump, where the soldier’s line up in two rows and jump out the two side doors of the aircraft in much the same fashion as during World War 2. However, when Special Forces jump from the C-130J-30, they usually exit from the rear ramp of the Hercules. The reasons for this are that not only can they jump in a tighter group, they usually also carry more equipment than a normal paratrooper, making it more practical to leave via the ramp.
The unit regularly trains not only with the Danish Special Forces, “Jægerkorpset” and “Frømandkorpset”, but also with Special Forces from other NATO countries, as well as participating in international exercises which include Special Forces elements.
NEW EQUIPMENT – NEW OPTIONS
As part from the Block update described earlier, the units C-130J-30 sometimes receive new equipment to test to see if it can bring new and useful capabilities to the aircraft.
In the spring of 2015, B-536 was equipped with a Special Airborne Mission Installation and Response (SABIR) arm on the right side of the airframe, just under the right side door. The SABIR arm is produced by the American company Airdyne Aerospace and consists of a standard NATO pylon and a control station placed inside the cargo hold of the Hercules. From the control station, the operator can control whatever equipment is attached to the SABIR arm.
So far the RDAF have attached a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera to the SABIR arm with the intent to use it during SAR missions to help locate people in the water. The FLIR camera will not only be used in the SAR role, but it is also planned to use it in the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) role in the future.
THE POSSIBILITIES OF THE SABIR ARM
The squadron is currently testing the system to see what new capabilities it brings and how it can be incorporated into the unit’s current missions and then what new missions the unit will be able to perform using the SABIR arm.
Using the FLIR camera the Hercules could be used to survey an area where Special Forces have been inserted and if a laser designator is attached to the SABIR arm, they could be used to designate targets for other ground and air units.
If more pylons were to be attached to the Hercules, they could even designate and drop laser guided weapons or cargo of their own. However, currently there are no plans to attach anything else other than the FLIR camera to the SABIR arm.
The SABIR arm and FLIR camera will be used in the Arctic areas where the FLIR, along with the new “bubble doors” will make the C-130J aircraft into an effective SAR aircraft, that can scan and locate people in distress through the FLIR, and then throw down various types of rescue equipment via visual drops. In addition, the SABIR arm can also be used in connection with the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) role.
New equipment brings new capabilities, which means that the unit’s nine crews will have even more missions to train for and fly, and with the current D-checks and future Block upgrades which mean the unit only have three airframes available in the next couple of years, the squadron is facing a busy future.
FLYMAG would like to thank the Hercules Flight of 721 Squadron, for their big help in making this article possible.