Spartan turns twenty

On Sept. 24, 1999 the first C-27J succesfully completed its maiden flight.

Leonardo C-27J Spartan first flight
C-27J Spartan makes maiden flight, Torino-Caselle airport, Sept. 24, 1999.

Twenty years ago the first C-27J multi-role military transport aircraft made its first flight. The milestone was achieved when on September 24, 1999 the first Spartan took off from Leonardo SpA plant in Caselle, Turin province, Italy.

Since that date, the C-27J has taken great steps forward. 85 aircraft have already been sold to 15 operators across 5 continents to date. The aircraft has been ordered by the Air Forces of Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, Marocco, U.S.A., Mexico, Australia, Chad, Peru, Slovakia, Kenya and Zambia.

The Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) was its first user and the first armed force to be able to appreciate the great capabilities of the aircraft. It says that "the C-27J has proven to be a very versatile and flexible transport aircraft and able to effectively perform various tactical transport missions operating even from semi-prepared or deteriorated tracks. It allows us to perform effectively medical transport missions, launch of materials and paratroopers and maritime patrol."

The version delivered to the Italian Air Force is among the richest and most complete. It boasts an advanced data management system that includes a digital map and a double Head Up Display (HUD), an in-flight refueling system and a DASS self-protection system (Defensive Aids Sub System).

The Italian Air Force is not the only user to be enthusiastic about the plane. "The C-27J is easy to fly and can play the role of different types of aircraft. Thanks to its introduction, we have been able to increase our effectiveness in fighting fires," a Romanian Air Force pilot said.

Romania was the first C-27J customer to use the aircraft in the firefighting role. Thanks to an innovative anti-fire system, the Romanian Air Force was able to offer great support in the fight against fires in Greece in July 2018. The Spartan is one of the few cargo aircraft on the market to boast this ability.

During the past years many aviation enthusiasts have had the opportunity to appreciate the C-27J's abilities during flying displays performed by Italian, Romanian and Bulgarian pilots in national and international air shows. Thanks to its great maneuverability, the Spartan can perform quick climbs, descents and tight turns. "It seems to see a fighter plane," said the crowd during the Pisa Air Show 2019. The awards received by the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV) of the Italian Air Force during the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) confirm the aircraft's great capabilities along with the high skills of Italian demo pilots. No other cargo plane can offer this performance; the C-27J has the best descent and climb rate (4,000 - 2,500 ft/min) and is able to perform 3g tactical manoeuvers.

In the last decade the armed forces have been largely involved in missions in support of disadvantaged populations or those affected by natural disasters. The C-27J has proved to be a fundamental aircraft to offer this type of support such as the missions carried out by the Peruvian Air Force.

On February 2019 the Peruvian Government officially declares a state of emergency for the northern coastal regions of Peru. An unusual amount of seasonal rainfall has triggered severe flooding and mudslides throughout the northern regions destroying roads, collapsing bridges, and forcing school closures. Entire towns are being evacuated. The Sistema de Atención Móvil de Urgencia (SAMU) and the Seguro Integral do Salud (SIS) Health Department call in the C-27J Spartan for urgent transportation of patients, including premature babies and badly injured people out of the otherwise unreachable area of Huánuco, 1,900 mt above sea level. A timely action and long hours of activity were key to saving lives and the suite of advanced avionics that equips the Spartan with the increased night vision capability provided by the Night Vision Goggles (NVG), have given pilots the possibility of landing and taking off throughout the night.

In 2017 the Peruvian government sent a C-27J in support of disaster relief following the earthquake in Ecuador and again to support evacuations during the raging fires in Chile. The Fuerza Aérea del Peru has successfully flown over 5,000 hours with their Spartans since the first aircraft landed, in March 2015, at the International Jorge Chavez airport in Lima, home of the Grupo Aereo N°8 (transport wing). In these 5,000 flight hours the C-27J has bravely met the most challenging conditions moving comfortably between coastal areas at 19°C to forests at 38°, to mountains at 5°C, landing smoothly on semi-prepared strips at either 100 feet or 11,500 feet above sea level.

The missions developed by the armed forces needs an aircraft with the features of the Spartan: extramodern, of medium transport category, versatile and friendly use with the capability of landing practically anywhere: in the sand, the ice, the gravel, landing strips in bad conditions, short runways. In addition, the Spartan is a constantly evolving system. On December 3, 2018 the new C-27J baseline configuration performed the first flight. It is characterized by a new avionics system, new cockpit control panels and LED aircraft lights and improved operational cost and performance.

It clearly shows how after twenty years, the C-27J still has so much to offer!

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Images: Leonardo, Italian Air Force

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