Skip to comments.Libya's C-130s still in Marietta 30 years after purchase
Posted on 05/05/2004 6:54:04 AM PDT by Kennesaw
Libya's C-130s still in Marietta 30 years after purchase Easing of tensions may free planes
By DAVE HIRSCHMAN The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 05/01/04
The flight from Marietta to Tripoli was supposed to take two or three days.
Three decades later, eight C-130 Hercules aircraft built for Libya remain immobile at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, their brown-and-tan desert camouflage paint at odds with their verdant surroundings. Their tires are flat, with weeds growing tall around them.
Eight C-130s bought by Libya in 1972 were built, tested and then grounded because of political issues and the freezing of Libyan assets in the United States. They never were delivered, and remain parked at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
The planes have been stuck in a time warp of enmity between the United States and Libya that has lasted more than a quarter century. But with Libya's recent rapprochement with the West after the cancellation of its weapons of mass destruction programs, there's a chance the boxy transports may someday complete their trip.
"No one stays an enemy forever," said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst at the Teal Group. "Vietnam is buying triple-sevens from Boeing. There's no reason Libya shouldn't get its C-130s. It's not like there are any sensitive technology transfer issues involved in a few 1970s-era transports."
Some major hurdles remain, however, both political and technical.
Libya is still on the U.S. State Department's list of countries that support terrorism, and military sales to such countries are illegal. The United States has lifted travel and trade bans against Libya in the last two months, but State Department officials say Libya is likely to remain on the terrorism list for some time.
The toll that time and neglect have taken on the airframes also is unknown. The planes have stayed outside and exposed to the elements since the Carter administration. Each plane's engines, propellers, avionics and wiring are likely to need overhauls or outright replacement.
Still, Aboulafia believes the Libyan C-130s aren't ready for the scrap heap.
"They're definitely worth more than their scrap value," he says. "There are plenty of spare parts and off-the-shelf components available for older C-130s. For a few million bucks apiece, you could have some pretty darn good airplanes."
Libya bought eight C-130s in 1969 and liked them well enough to buy eight more for $42 million in 1972. Lockheed built the new aircraft at its Marietta assembly line, test-flew them and painted them in Libyan colors. When they were ready for delivery, however, political considerations kept them grounded.
Then, relations between the two countries got steadily worse.
In 1981, a pair of Libyan fighters attacked two American F-14s over a disputed area of the Mediterranean, and the U.S. planes shot them down. The United States banned oil imports from Libya in 1982. And when Libyan agents bombed a West German disco in 1986, killing two U.S. soldiers and a German woman, President Ronald Reagan launched air strikes targeting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi himself.
The U.S. government froze Libyan assets abroad, including the airplanes in Marietta.
When Libya blew up a Pan Am flight over Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people, relations between the two countries reached their nadir.
In recent months, however, Libya has become a poster child for former foes seeking to get back on Washington's good side. Libya admitted responsibility for the disco bombings and agreed to pay $2.7 billion ($10 million to each of the victims' families) for the Pan Am killings, halted its secret weapons programs and allowed international inspections to begin. It also began exporting oil to the United States and seeks to normalize relations with the West.
Libyan officials at its embassy in Canada declined to comment for this story. There's no Libyan Embassy in Washington.
Lockheed would only confirm that the status of the Libyan planes here is unchanged.
But aerospace experts say there's a chance the forlorn squadron of impounded planes may someday fly away.
"The biggest question is how badly Libya wants them," said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute. "My hunch is that they do still want them, and the capabilities these planes offer are still very much in demand."
Libya is a huge country geographically, and it has very little transportation infrastructure. Planes that can carry big loads over large distances and land on rough runways, he says, can still be useful there.
The U.S. military still operates C-130s from about the same time period, although they have been upgraded and undergone regular maintenance.
"The thought of the Libyan planes flying again is a bit like bees stuck in amber during the Jurassic period coming back to life today," Thompson said.
"But the possibility they could be revived is better now than it was 10 years ago."