Airlifter for Hire


If you’ve ever:

  • Delivered food during the Biafran relief operation in Africa in 1967, you may be an L-100
  • Supplied blankets and medicine to South Sudan or Somalia in 2017, you may be an L-100
  • Sprayed dispersant on the waters of Prince William Sound in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster in 1989 or on the Gulf of Mexico after the massive spill from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, you may be an L-100
  • Carried Keiko the killer whale from a Mexican amusement park to a rehabilitation facility in Oregon, you may be an L-100

You see where we’re going here. Crews flying the L-100 transport have done many hard jobs in oftentimes the hardest of places.

A total of 115 L-100s, the commercial variant of the C-130 Hercules airlifter, were produced from 1964 through 1992 at the then-Lockheed facility in Marietta, Georgia. More than 50 of those airlifters are still in service worldwide used for civil airlift missions in places where jet aircraft operations are impractical.

L-100s service a niche market, delivering oversized cargo such as oil and natural gas drilling equipment to short and often unimproved airfields that have no infrastructure other than maybe a forklift and a flatbed truck. In addition, L-100s are also used for humanitarian aid, airdrop, aerial spray, VIP transport, aerial firefighting, and other, similar operations.

Analysts predict that Latin America, Africa, and Middle East countries will see double digit growth in air freight business over the next decade. Overall, the world’s air cargo trade is expected to grow by four percent annually for at least the next several years. Even higher growth rates are predicted for niche operators.

Enter the LM-100J

While the L-100 is highly regarded for operations on dirt/unimproved fields or short runway and other operations at the edges of the commercial air cargo spectrum, the existing fleet today is nearing the end of its service life. And, as part of that longevity, there are operational challenges.

First – Communications, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management, or CNS/ATM, compliance. CNS/ATM is the evolving group of systems and regulations used to provide air traffic control services over large geographical areas, including large sections of oceanic airspace. The avionics in the existing L-100s will need retrofitting to accommodate the CNS/ATM regulations. Second – The Allison (now Rolls-Royce) T56 engines powering the L-100 fleet, do not meet the FAA’s Stage IV noise requirements for civilian transports, nor do they meet today’s emission standards. Finally, more so than passenger airlines, air cargo operators work on razor-thin profit margins. The 25-to-40 year old L-100s do have higher direct operating cost relative to the ex-Soviet-bloc An-12 transports operating in many parts of the world, as well as the ubiquitous 737 airliner, many of which have been converted to freighters.

To respond to these challenges, a Program Notification Letter was submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration 21 January 2014 for a type design update for the Model L-382J transport, a civil-certified variant of the C-130J Super Hercules.

This commercial variant is now known as the LM-100J. Engineering and detailed design of the LM-100J is complete; assembly of the first aircraft began in 2015. That first aircraft (company number 5818) rolled off the production line in Marietta 9 February 2017. First flight is expected to come at the end of May 2017.

Transport of Keiko the Whale Keiko the killer Whale transported by L-100 from Mexico to Orego.

First Look, First LM-100J

What’s There?

The LM-100J looks much like its military C-130J Super Hercules counterpart. The main exterior difference is the lack of lower windows under the windscreen, which allow the C-130J pilots to look ahead and down to see drop zones. The new airlifter has the same Dowty R391 propellers with six scimitar-shaped composite blades and a black de-icer boot at the base of the vertical fin.

Internally, the LM-100J, like the C-130J, features an Enhanced Service Life, or ESL, center wing box, enhanced icing protection, and the numerous reliability and maintainability improvements that are a part of the basic C-130J design.

The LM-100J uses the same Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 engines as the C-130J. These engines, rated at approximately 4,600 shaft horsepower each, or roughly 150 more horsepower than the legacy T56 engines, feature a full-authority digital engine controller, or FADEC. The engines are expected to exceed FAA Stage IV standards, so there is significantly less fly-over noise with an LM-100J than with an L-100.

The LM-100J has the same automatic engine thrust control system as the C-130J.This system automatically adjusts for axisymmetric thrust conditions—in other words, if one engine loses power, the other engines automatically compensate to keep the aircraft flying safely.

The LM-100J has a low-power color weather and ground-mapping radar. Data is presented to the two-pilot flight crew on any of the four head-down color displays on the flight deck. All primary flight information, including altitude, heading, and airspeed is presented on two see-through head-up displays in the crew’s field of view. The LM-100J has a Category II autopilot which can take the aircraft down to 100 feet decision height for landing with 1,200-foot visibility.

On the flight deck, the LM-100J has a microwave oven, like on the C-130J. However, inclusion of a coffee maker is a customer option.

And What Isn’t

On a commercial air freighter, any equipment that doesn’t need to be on the aircraft is extra weight that can be eliminated. Less aircraft weight means fuel saved. Less equipment equals less complexity and reduced maintenance time. That’s why all military-specific equipment found on a C-130J has been removed or disabled on the LM-100J.

In the cargo compartment, the LM-100J has an unobstructed, flat floor with tiedowns and provisions for roller racks for palletized cargo. There are no litter stanchions for casualty evacuation, as casualties are usually evacuated on military transports or dedicated civilian aircraft. The flush toilet has also been removed because it takes up space and adds weight and most LM-100J flights are relatively short.

The LM-100J has fuselage doors at the rear of the aircraft, but these doors don’t open fully like the paratroop doors on the C-130J. The paratroop air deflectors mounted ahead of the doors on the LM-100J are deactivated simply because they’re not needed, and the engineering cost to remove them completely would be substantial.

Every C-130J includes provisions for defensive systems such as chaff and flare dispensers, which are not needed for a commercial transport in normal use. Secure communications and electronic warfare equipment, racks, and wiring are all eliminated.

Rather than a complex liquid oxygen tank and the associated ground servicing equipment, the LM-100J crew uses a simpler gaseous oxygen system with two walk-around oxygen bottles for emergencies.

L-100 L-100

LM-100J LM-100J

Crews flying the LM-100J will generally fly single-ship operations, so the low-voltage formation lights on the C-130J aren’t installed, as is the Station Keeping Equipment, or SKE, which is necessary for formation airdrops with the C-130J.

What It Does (Or May) Have

At the back of the aircraft are external controls to open the cargo door and lower the ramp to reduce time on the ground and to allow for maximum loading capacity.

Internally, the LM-100J crew is separated from the cargo compartment by a door, unlike on the C‑130J, which simply has a cutout in what is called the 245 bulkhead (i.e. 245 inches from the nose). The LM-100J has a cargo net able to withstand 9-g force, so it can contain almost anything. The aircraft also has provisions for widely used commercial cargo handling systems.

Rather than sound-deadening and temperature-controlling insulation blankets used on C-130s, the LM-100J has a hard liner that is the same concept as a bedliner in a pickup truck—able to withstand repeated bumps and scrapes without requiring regular repair or maintenance.

The LM-100J avionics system includes a commercial Traffic Collision Alert System; the latest-generation CNS/ATM equipment and software; commercial takeoff and landing data; and GPS position data reported to the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter, so if there is an accident, the system sends out exact coordinates to rescue crews.

Structurally, the LM-100J has reinforced bird strike plates around the windscreen and a commercial standard, bird-resistant windscreen. Externally, the LM-100J has an INMARSAT radio and commercial GPS antenna on the top of the fuselage.

For nearly every commercial flight, the crew will know in advance whether their cargo for the day is steel pipe, bags of grain, or a truck, and whether they need rollers or a flat floor. The Enhanced Cargo Handling System, or ECHS, in the C-130J allows crews to rapidly change from rollers to tie downs. However, the flip-over roller trays do add some weight. Although the ECHS is not a part of the original baseline LM-100J design, it may still be offered as a customer option.

With aircraft, drag is a bad thing. Lift and thrust have to overcome gravity and drag for an aircraft to fly. A possible second visible external difference between the LM-100J and the C-130J might be counterintuitive: installing 18 small, lightweight, strake-like devices called microvanes on each side of the aircraft’s aft fuselage near the cargo ramp door and horizontal tail.

LM-100J Production LM-100J in production on the Marietta, Georgia, factory floor.

These roughly 10-inch-long vanes create minimal localized drag. However, working as a group, the microvanes slow the natural, much larger drag-creating vortex that forms as airflow goes over and under the wing and swirls around the aft end of the aircraft. The net result is a 15-count reduction in drag at long range cruise speeds, which equates to about a 25 gallon per hour saving. Microvanes are under study as a customer option on the LM-100J.

On The Ramp

Time and payload equal money to air freight operations. Anything that puts more cargo in an aircraft and gets that payload it to its destination faster means more money in an operator’s pocket. All of the features of the LM-100J come together in a civil-certified transport that will carry one-third more payload, with 20 percent (or more) greater range, and at 10 percent faster speeds than the L-100.

As a practical mission example, a crew flying an L-100 with a max normal gross takeoff weight of 155,000 pounds and a 35,000 pound payload will cruise at 18,000 feet at a speed of 280 knots.

The crew in the LM-100J with a 35,000 pound payload will take off at a max normal gross takeoff weight of 164,000 pounds; reach a cruising altitude of 28,000 feet, where the engines are more efficient, in less time than it took the L-100 crew to reach 18,000 feet; and fly at 310 knots.

Because much of the flight test done to civil certify the C-130J in the late 1990s will be directly applicable to the LM-100J, testing and certification of the newest Hercules variant is expected to take about 12 months and be complete by mid 2018. As of mid 2017, Lockheed Martin has letters of intent or firm orders for 25 LM-100Js.

The LM-100J is expected to start earning its keep for commercial operators shortly after the certification process is completed.

Written by Jeff Rhodes.