FOR nearly 35 years, the C-130H Hercules has been synonymous with Australia's response to crisis.
Since the government bought 12 of the planes in 1978, they have come under fire in the Middle East, flown peacekeeping missions to Cambodia and East Timor, transported victims of the Bali bombings and run relief missions across south-east Asia. But now the workhorse of the air force is going on a farewell tour before being phased out.
Two of the planes flew over Cronulla and then low over Sydney Harbour on Monday morning. They will officially retire at the end of the month.
''It's the most versatile airframe ever invented,'' said Greg Evans, a retired air vice-marshal and former Hercules pilot who has written a history of the plane.
''We lived such a varied life flying them. One day you'd be doing a medical evacuation in Samoa or PNG; the next day you'd be dropping paratroopers, or in the Southern Ocean doing search and rescue.''
But the vast majority of its missions have involved flying into crisis.
Last year the C-130 flew missions over Queensland after cyclone Yasi. But they have been phased out to make way for more modern planes, including a Hercules with electronic navigation, which the RAAF bought in 1999. Further, up to 10 mini-Hercules - the C-27J Spartan - are expected to be delivered in 2015
On Friday, the planes will fly over several NSW towns, including Lake Cargelligo, Walcha and Gilgandra.
Four of the planes are being given to Indonesia, another six will be made available for sale. The remaining two will be displayed and used for training.