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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 January 2005, 21:30 GMT
Air workhorse plays pivotal role
Hercules in flight
The aircraft has an excellent safety track record
The Hercules aircraft is considered to be the RAF's air workhorse.

The American transport plane has played a pivotal role in many key military and relief campaigns over the years, flying heavy loads overseas.

It can carry up to 128 troops or 20 tonnes of freight, the RAF told the BBC News website. It can land on surfaces including snow, ice, sand and fields.

The first test model had its maiden flight on 23 August 1954; the RAF first acquired Hercules in the mid-1960s.

Multiple tasks

Ever since then the aircraft's missions have included transporting troops, fuel, ammunition and humanitarian relief.

The RAF Hercules also has an excellent safety record, with only one crash recorded on take off.

BBC News defence analyst Paul Beaver said: "One of the reasons why the Hercules has been so reliable and it has had very few crashes is because it is so well designed.

"They go on thousands of missions every year and each one normally flies around 500 hours during that time. Half of the British fleet is in the air at any one time.

"Only one RAF Hercules has crashed before on take-off and that came as a result of a human error in Albania 1999. Basically the aircraft wasn't loaded properly. Most other crashes have come as a result of enemy fire."

Humanitarian relief

In the 1980s, two Hercules aircraft worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week, to deliver thousands of tons of food and medical supplies to Ethiopia - many crews volunteered for the job.

During the first Gulf War, the Hercules was the only aircraft that could land on desert strips.

Troops were taken to the front line of the Kuwait invasion and at the end of Desert Storm were taken home at the rate of 1,000 a day.

They have been used to bring humanitarian relief to a number of other countries, including Haiti, Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda.

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23 Aug 04 |  Wiltshire

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