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Three Royal Air Force (RAF) C-130J Hercules transport aircraft performed a flypast across the United Kingdom on 14 June 2023 to mark the type’s imminent official retirement from RAF service on 30 June.

The C-130s, which are operated by the RAF’s 47 Squadron, took off from their base at RAF Brize Norton at 10.00 BST to overfly locations of significance throughout the UK before landing back at Brize Norton at 17.05.

The Hercules has been the workhorse of UK operational tactical mobility since the RAF’s first C-130Ks (which the RAF designated Hercules C1s) entered service in 1967.

One of the three C-130Js that toured the UK on 14 June 2023 to mark the type’s imminent retirement from RAF service. (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

The RAF’s outgoing Hercules fleet consists of 14 C-130Js from a fleet of 25 brought into service from 1999; 13 of the remaining aircraft are stretched C-130J-30 models (Hercules C4s), with just one C-130J (Hercules C5).

The C-130J/J-30s are being replaced in RAF service by a fleet of 22 Airbus Atlas C1 A400Ms, the last of which arrived at RAF Brize Norton on 22 May 2023. The first A400M entered service in 2014.

While the Atlas can carry more troops and has a greater payload capacity than the C-130J – 37,000 kg as opposed to 21,772 for the C-130J-30 – there will something of a capability gap when the RAF retires the Hercules relating the type’s special forces duties. These capabilities, which relate largely to airdropping special forces and their equipment, are not scheduled to be fully resident in the Atlas fleet until 2025.

Peter Felstead