LONDON — Problems in obtaining British flight clearances have kept a modified Royal Air Force C-130J Hercules airlifter stuck on the ground at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta, Ga., facility several months after the planned first flight.
The aircraft was modified to test an extensive avionics upgrade for several international users.
The C-130 has been marooned at Marietta so long an annual maintenance program scheduled to be undertaken once the aircraft was back in the UK has had to be carried out by Lockheed in the US.
The avionics update, known as Block 7.0, is the biggest modification of the J model since it entered service following a launch order for the RAF in the 1990s.
A new flight management system, integration of a tactical data capability and a new special mission display processor are among the 26 or so capability upgrades incorporated in the Block 7.0 work.
Lockheed Martin has undertaken flight trials on the upgrade but the RAF aircraft is meant to debut the national integration trial kit designed for Block 7.0 development partners Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Norway and the US.
The delay is holding up implementation of individual national programs to update their J fleets. In the case of the British, that also means retaining older special forces-configured C-130Ks in service longer than planned.
The RAF aircraft was scheduled to fly in March following a development flight testing phase conducted by Lockheed on a US-owned aircraft. That target date was missed due to technical issues and the failure of the aircraft to receive UK certification.
It’s the latest in a string of problems that has delayed the Block 7.0 program by at least two years.
In March, the British MoD said the first flight could take place by mid-May. That date came and went with no sign the updated aircraft, which is modified to US standards, was close to a maiden flight.
A spokesman for the MoD said there is no new target date for the first flight ahead of the machine coming out of its four- to five-week maintenance program.
The aircraft also still has to receive the required approvals from the UK’s Military Aviation Authority (MAA) and others, he said.
When the first flight was postponed, industry executives reckoned the British would struggle to get rapid MAA clearance for an upgrade done to US standards.
The aircraft was scheduled to conduct a number of missions from the Marietta plant, near Atlanta, ahead of returning to the MoD’s Boscombe Down flight test facility in southern England where it is planned to undertake release-to-service trials.
British contractor QinetiQ was due to do what is known here as Primary Plus maintenance carried out every 12 months. Lockheed Martin had to undertake the work at Marietta.