Aircraft awful and awesome: A mighty “Mini” Herc

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing Historian

***image1***Another regular visitor to Ramstein is the Transall C-160, often from the 86 AW’s German sister wing, the 62 AW, the home of Transall flight training. The C-160 looks, at first glance, like a mini, twin-engine C-130, with the C-130’s high wings, loading ramp in the rear of the fuselage and pod mounted landing gear. But looks can be deceiving − while its twin engines make it seem smaller, the C-160 is almost as big as a C-130 and actually has a slightly longer wingspan. Additionally, the C-160 has performance and load carrying capabilities that approach those of its four engine American counterpart. The two large twin engines with huge propellers (see picture above) provide the C-160 about 11,000 shaft horsepower as compared to the Herc’s almost 17,000. The Transall’s maximum payload is more than 35,275 pounds versus the C-130E’s 42,000 and they both can carry about the same number of troops (92) or litters (62). Initially the C-160 was considered short on range and to solve this problem, later models have an extra center section fuel tank and some have in-flight air refueling capability.

The C-160 was produced by a consortium of companies − Nord-Aviation, Hamburger Flugzeugbau (HFB) and Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW) − collectively known as the Transport Allianz group, aka Transall, and the twin engine transport became one of the first successful joint European aerospace ventures. Three prototypes were built, one by each of the three major partners in this venture, and the first C-160 flew on 25 February 1963. They were followed by six pre-production aircraft, then production C-160s began to be delivered in spring 1967. One hundred-sixty were initially produced − 50 C-160F models for France and 110 C-160D models for Germany − and then nine more, dubbed the C-160Z, were made and sold to South Africa, despite the country’s apartheid regime.

Like the C-130, the C-160 has proved to be very adaptable. A number of C-160s have been modified to be airborne tankers for other aircraft and helicopters with a refueling hose unit in the left undercarriage pod − shades of the KC-130.

Beginning in the 1990s, many C-160s were upgraded with heads up displays, flight management and GPS systems and a variety of electronic warfare detection and countermeasure systems. France converted two C-160s to SIGINT/ELINT electronic surveillance aircraft using mainly Thomson-CSF systems. These were called the EC-160 by non-French sources and the C-160G Gabriel by the French and were based an hour from Ramstein at Metz, France. During Operation Desert Shield, they deployed to the Gulf and during Desert Storm, the Gabriels flew 272 combat sorties for more than 1,100 hours from Al Ahsa Air Base, Saudi Arabia. Additionally, seven C-160 transports from Escadre de Transport 61 were deployed and flew tactical airlift missions for French forces.

Like the C-130s, the C-160s are aging − one of the Luftwaffe’s 62 AW’s C-160s was the first in the Luftwaffe to achieve 10,000 flying hours. All the early model South African machines have been retired and the French and German C-160s have undergone a variety of life extension programs. The 40-ish-year-old European C-160 force has been promised a replacement, but by an entirely new aircraft, the Airbus 400, which will be in direct competition with the C-130E replacement, the C-130J. While the Airbus 400 seems to offer more capability, the first prototype will not fly until 2008.

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