Thirteenth Hercules for the Air Component

Lockheed C-130H CH-13 Hand over

During the night of May 4th, 2006, a fire devastated hangar 40 of the aeronautical maintenance company Sabena Technics at Brussels-Airport involving the destruction of four aircraft, one of which was Belgian Air Component C-130H Hercules CH-02 which was present for routine maintenance. Fortunately an agreement was quickly found between the Air Component and its maintenance provider. With the allowances obtained from its insurances, Sabena Technics committed itself to find and provide the Belgian Air Force in the shortest delays with a second hand C-130 similar to the ten other Hercules operated by the Melsbroek based 15th Transport Wing. The final replacement convention was signed on January 11, 2007.

 Lockheed C-130H CH-13 Hand over

Lockheed C-130H Hercules CH-13 at the Melsbroek platform immediately prior to its first official flight with the Belgian Air Component.

Hurricane Hunter  

Sabena Technics acquired a former Lockheed C-130E of the USAF registered N130EV owned by the American civil airline Evergreen (c/n 382-4047). Built in 1965 and immediately converted into weather reconnaissance aircraft WC-130E (64-0552), this aircraft had a less than ordinary military career operating from Guam in the Pacific Ocean and later with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, in Keesler AFB, Mississippi. This specialized version of Hercules transport aircraft carried a specific instrumentation and communication equipment and was used to penetrate the “eye” of hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms threatening the US South-East coast between June and November each year. These aircraft and their crews are called “Hurricanes Hunters”. Withdrawn from service in July 1993 this particular plane was stored at the “dessert bone yard” at Davis-Monthan airbase,  Arizona, then repurchased in 1999 by the American airline company Evergreen Aviation of McMinnville, Oregon, which briefly used it as transport aircraft before storing it in its private museum (!) on standby for of its possible resale. With a total flying time of 20.361 hours this Hercules also had the advantage that its wings - part extremely sensitive to structural ageing – were replaced in two faces: the central part in 1970 and the outer wings in 1986.

Having received a minimum refurbishment by Sabena Technics personnel to make it temporarily airworthy, N130EV left the McMinnvill Evergreen Aviation Museum and Educational Institute in early April 2007. Not without some difficulties and breakdowns and after a failed North Atlantic crossing via Gander, N130EV finally arrived at Brussels in the evening of April 8, 2007 after a stopover at Lajes, in the Azores, and Shannon, Ireland. At that moment a 20 month rebuild started to bring the aircraft up to the same standards of the already modernised Belgian Air Force Hercules fleet. This was a real technical challenge included some 750 modifications, the installation of 203 line replacement units (LRUs), the replacement of almost 17 kilometers of cables and some 23 m2 of metallic parts. All this accounted for over 145.000 man-hours labour and 20.000 hours of research for the research department of the company.

Lockheed C-130H CH-13 Hand over

CH-13 on take off for the first offical military flight

Number 13

A small surprise awaited the aviation enthusiasts. Once arrived in its new home country, this future 13th Belgian military Hercules was attributed the registration CH-14 in total contradiction with the Belgian Air Force’s practice for the registration of its aircraft since decades. The press and specialized websites did not fail to divulge the obviously superstitious influence of this decision, seemingly without success. Hercules CH-14 finally left the workshops on October 3, 2008 and started it’s flight-test programme in its new Belgian military livery. The Hercules suffered a last draw-back when during an internal quality control at Sabena Technics, the machine was identified as one of two aircraft which suffered from an act of seemingly sabotage. The damage including non critical elements of the aircraft such as cut intercom cables and graffiti inside and outside of the fuselage and could be linked to frustrations generated by the recent advertisement of the lay-off of 371 of the 1.100 members of the personnel with Sabena Technics within the framework of a vast reorganization. 

Finally, on March 17th 2009 came the great day: the handing-over by Sabena Technics of the “new” aircraft to the Belgian Air Component in the presence of Minister of Defence Pieter De Crem (CD&V) and military authorities .… but this time provided with the suitable registration: CH-13. A return to common sense required by the staff of the Air Component. As Air Component Commander, Lieutenant-General aviator Van Caelenberge entrusted us; “I hardly liked the image of a superstitious air force in the 21st century”. It goes without saying that the arrival of this additional Hercules - within a fleet reduced since three years to ten transporters (see table) – is a much welcomed addition for the Belgian armed forces currently committed on many theatres of operations such as Afghanistan, ex-Yugoslavia, Lebanon and Central Africa. Initially the CH-13 will be used only for missions in Europe, after which it will be sent to the Portuguese aeronautical company OGMA to have a new satellite communication suite installed as well as an advanced self-protection system against the ground-to-air threats.

Lockheed C-130H CH-13 Hand over

Minister of Defence Pieter De Crem (CD&V) admiring the newest Air Force workhorse.

The C-130 Hercules of the Component Air should remain in service until at least 2018 when its replacement by 7 Airbus A400M transporters is planned to start. However and because of the delays incurred by the program of the new European transport aircraft, it could be that the last operational Hercules does reach the half-century of service in Belgian colours.

Lockheed C-130H CH-13 Hand over

CH-13 at very low-level over the Beauvechain airbase runway looking down down on an F-16AM fighter which just landed in the framework of exercise "Deployed Falcon"

 Lockheed C-130H CH-13 Hand over

Minister De Crem in the cockpit of CH-13 at low level near Diest.

Lockheed C-130H CH-13 Hand over

The end of a successful inaugural flight.

Lockheed C-130H CH-13 Hand over

The pilots of CH-13 together with Minister De Crem and military and civil personalities.


Lockheed C-130E/H Hercules of Component the Belgian Air (13 aircraft)  
Serial c/n Delivery date Remarks
CH-01 382-4455 20/07/1972 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1797
CH-02 382-4460 11/08/1972 destroyed on 05/05/2006 by fire at Zaventem - USAF Serial 71-1798
CH-03 382-4461 25/08/1972 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1799
CH-04 382-4467 27/10/1972 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1800
CH-05 382-4470 30/10/1972 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1801
CH-06 382-4473 15/12/1972 crashed on 15/07/1996 at Eindhoven (Netherlands) - USAF Serial 71-1802
CH-07 382-4476 25/01/1973 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1803
CH-08 382-4478 01/02/1973 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1804
CH-09 382-4479 01/03/1973 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1805
CH-10 382-4481 05/03/1973 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1806
CH-11 382-4482 02/04/1973 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1807
CH-12 382-4483 02/04/1973 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 71-1808
CH-13 382-4047 17/03/2009 In service with N° 15 Air Transport Wing - USAF Serial 64-0552; N130EV, CH-14

The first twelve Hercules were delivered new as model C-130H type 382C-25D


© Vincent Pirard/Aviascribe (March 2009)

Daniel Brackx & Serge Van Heertum (SBAP)

This is a BELGIAN WINGS - SBAP collaboration initiative


Last updated 23/12/11 14:21   Daniel Brackx