ST HELENA AND ITS MILITARY HISTORY | Darrin Henry
An RAF C-130 Hercules has become the first fixed wing military aircraft to land at St Helena Airport. I have to phrase it that way as the first St Helena Airport military landing was actually a Royal Navy Wildcat helicopter off HMS Lancaster in 2015.
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Only A Short Runway Needed
A decent crowd turned out for this early Sunday afternoon treat, lining the roadsides and regular viewing points around the Millennium Forest. We took up station a little further along, on the end of Horse Point ridge, an hour before ETA. Perfect conditions it seemed, warm with very little wind. After setting up the tripod we settled in for the wait, munching on some tasty but slightly ‘toasted’ mince pies Sharon had made this morning.
We heard the distinctive C-130 propeller growl before we spotted the aircraft itself, north, just out to sea from The Barn. Wheels up on this ‘runway 20’ approach, it was clear this was going to be a fly-by for the Herc, which it did, then turned around and made its second approach on ‘runway 02,’ the southern side. Wheels down this time, the plane did a much lower pass, not quite a touch and go, but no doubt a landing would have been a doddle had they wanted to.
Acutal landing was done on the third approach, from the north end, ‘runway 20,’ or The Barn end, as locals will know it.
From our position at Horse Point it looked as easy as you like, but then it’s what you would expect from a C-130. The aircraft didn’t touch down until half way up the runway and seemed to come to a stop almost immediately, turning directly into the taxi-way, not needing the extra length to slow down. The most difficult thing for me was tracking the plane as it camouflaged so well against the rocky background of King and Queen Rock.
HMS St Helena the Aircraft Carrier
The sight of such an iconic aircraft on St Helena will no doubt be fuel for the military conspiracy theorists. I remember first hearing opinions voiced at local public information meetings 10 years ago that this airport was being built for the military.
Following on from the recent successful Atlantic Star flight in October and Brazil’s, Embraer Aviation tests earlier this month, here’s what we know about today’s C-130 visit.
The aircraft has flown down from Ascension Island, 700 miles north-west of St Helena.
C130 Hercules At St Helena Airport
It’s a Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, operated by the Royal Air Force.
St Helena Government and Airport authorities have informed us the flight has been commissioned by the Department for International Development (DfID) and will be here for a day, returning to Ascension tomorrow.
The purpose of the visit is to conduct an assessment of the operating and landing conditions at St Helena Airport.
The crew are not doing any media while they are here.
Keep Calm, We’re British
Back to the military base speculation.
Was St Helena Airport built for the British military? I don’t think so somehow.
Would the military make use of the island’s airport in the event of a conflict or crisis in this part of the world? Well yes, I expect they would.
St Helena’s a British island after all and supporting the military is nothing new. From the days of Napoleon’s exile to more recent times when the island’s ship was seconded to support the Falklands war effort. Saints also serve in the British forces.
But the military is not all bullets and bombs; the modern frontline is often humanitarian aid, logistical support and natural disasters. St Helena has also needed military aid of the non-fighting kind.
In 1991 a US military aircraft operating from Ascension Island help coordinate a search and rescue at one of our seamounts, 90 miles off-shore, after a fishing boat, which included St Helenian crew, capsized and sank.
More than 30 years earlier, in January 1958, a US military C-124 Globemaster made a “mercy flight” from Recife, Brazil, dropping a medical container with anti-tetanus serum onto the island, saving the life of a critically ill 14 year old St Helenian girl.
St Helena’s isolated location means at some point it may well be the best place to stage an air operation from. You never know.
The Royal Air Force turning up here to check out the facilities makes sense. I don’t want to read much more into it.
On this lazy Sunday, a week before Christmas, the arrival of the C-130 is just another milestone in the story of St Helena Airport; a good excuse for a drive after lunch for a lot of people.
Time now for more important things – some of those burnt mince pies and Spurs vs Burnley on TV.
Hello Darrin – Fabulous blog which I always enjoy. You mentioned the C130 touched down about halfway down the runway, you photo shows the main wheels touching the runway almost exactly beside the PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator) lights – in other words bang smack where it should be. It looks like a long way down the runway because runway 20 has a displaced threshold of 790 metres and then the recommended touch down zone is approx a further 1,000 metres along. Despite this being almost one-third of the runway, it the right place as I would expect from the RAF. Thanks again – very much appreciated! /john
Hi John, thanks for your comment and technical clarification. Good thing we have the photographic evidence to show the real story, eh! Great to have you following the blog, thanks for the support. Cheers 🙂
Great pictures and another good job, well done. Was quite exciting seeing a C130 Hercules again, she could make a good cargo flight for St Helena, I don’t mean Military equipment.
Cheers Borbs. Yes, nice seeing the familiar shape of the Herc again.
A cursory look at runway lengths makes it clear that Saint Helena is of no use as any sort of air transport hub: just under 2000m is much too short for most military aircraft to take off except the C130, and that sort of aircraft would require air refuelling before it could reach anywhere other than Ascension. Those air refuelling tankers would have to be based elsewhere too.
Most importantly, since the UK has Ascension, with it’s large base and 3000m runway a mere 800 miles away, what an earth is the point of basing anything other than small coastguard type aircraft there?
Anyway, great to see flights between Saint Helena and Ascension. The obvious solution to the airport issue is to make the latter the hub from which the former fly’s to the rest of the world, especially since plenty of Saints work there. Time for the politicians to make Ascension a dual civil/military field like MPA in the Falklands 🙂
Your technical knowledge is clearly a lot better than mine on these matters, Rupert. Thanks for your comment. Let’s hope a working solution is found soon. Cheers.
Hi, I was on the very first C130 flight to St Helena from Ascension in 1984, but it could not land ! We did a postal drop.There were loads of dignitaries on board and I won a ticket in a draw for a place. It was a great experience.
What a great story! Thanks John, very interesting. Bet there must be plenty little gems like this down the years.
Great blog Darrin – thanks for the “always great” pictures – I wouldn’t be too harsh on the mince pies however, I had to enjoy a lacklustre Arsenal against Man City (COYGs).
It’s just motivation for more soon Derek, even ‘well done’ they were still pretty good mince pies 🙂 Not sure we can tolerate the gooners being cheered on this blog though 🙂 might have to update the spam filters!
Thanks for your comment, always appreciate the support. Cheers