The U. S. Air Force is quietly making progress with its C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) – the newest fixed-wing aircraft in inventory, intended to haul cargoes “the last tactical mile” amid front-line fighting.
Supporters say the C-27J permits airmen to bring supplies and munitions into trouble spots where the larger C-130J Hercules might have difficulty operating. Critics say the larger transport can handle most situations and wonder if the expense of adding a new aircraft type to inventory service is costlier than the waste that accrues when a Hercules operates with less than a full payload.
JCA began as an Army-only project to replace 44 C-23 Sherpas (Shorts 330s) with 78 new, twin-engined airlifters. The USAF took over the
program shortly after the first flight of an American C-27J on June 17, 2008, and the program of record was reduced to 38 airframes. Pilots, loadmasters and maintainers will be airmen, not soldiers, although a joint Air Force-Army team is conducting developmental work. The C-27J training center has not yet been officially named, but the Formal Training Unit (FTU) is expected to be located at Warner Robins Air Force Base, Ga.
A recent decision not to proceed with a planned AC-27J Stinger II gunship version, coupled with the halving of the JCA “buy” means that plans for a Global Military Aircraft Systems (GMAS) assembly plant at Cecil Field, Fla., have been placed on hold. C-27Js being delivered today are built in Turin, Italy. GMAS, a spin-off of the Italian planemaker Alenia, would like to proceed and emphasizes that stationing C-27Js at Air National Guard bases will bring new jobs to many localities.
The team at Robins is currently flying four USAF C-27Js plus a GMAS-owned airframe used for pilot and loadmaster training. Air Force personnel completed a portion of Production Qualification Testing (PQT), focusing on aeromedical evacuation, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., June 8-9, 2010. The tests come ahead of Multi-Service Operational Test and Evaluation (MOT&E) slated for autumn. The MOT&E process evaluates an aircraft in operational conditions. The USAF C-27J fleet passed 1,000 flight hours in June 2010. Ironically, the program is moving even faster overseas where, on June 30, the fledgling Afghan National Army Air Force’s 373rd Fixed Wing Squadron completed its first airdrop mission using a U.S.-supplied and funded C-27.
The C-27J has proven itself in varying degrees in Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Morocco and in the promising Afghan program. The Italian Air Force deployed two C-27Js to Afghanistan in September 2008.
Its two 4,640 shaft horsepower (3460 kW) Rolls-RoyceAE2100-D2A turboprop engines and six-bladed Dowty 391 propellers give the C-27J some commonality with the C-130J, a “plus” when operating costs are measured.