Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Spartan in the Desert

The Army and Air Force's newest cargo aircraft, the GMAS C-27J Spartan, paid a visit to Mojave, where it will be based for the next few days during a short flight test program. The Spartan is an updated version of the Italian Alenia G.222, which won the competition for the services' new Joint Cargo Aircraft, or JCA.

The G.222 dates back to 1970, when it made its maiden flight. The type was designed to meet a NATO specification, although initially only Italy operated them. In 1990, the USAF bought ten G.222s, designating them the C-27A, for their "Rapid-Response Intra-Theater Airlifter" program, but they were withdrawn from service nine years later due to high maintenance costs. In 1997, Alenia teamed with Lockheed Martin to propose an updated version of the aircraft, powered with two of the Rolls Royce AE2100 engines used on the C-130J Hercules, for the Army/Air Force JCA program. The deal fell through, though, when LM pulled out and offered the C-130J as a competing contender (for comparison, besides having half the engines of the C-130J, the C-27J carries about 3/5 the cargo).

Alenia then teamed with L3 Communications and Boeing, with the alliance going under the name Global Military Aircraft Systems, Inc. The plane visiting Mojave is registered to GMAS and is flown by a joint L3 and Alenia crew (in an interesting comparison of cultures, the L3 guys were standard green flight suits, while the Alenia folks were a stylish red/black suit that you'd more expect to find being worn by a Formula One racing team!).

The Army took delivery of their first flight test aircraft on September 25. The aircraft visiting Mojave is a civilian-registered ship that serves as the programs testbed aircraft. As such, there are a number of differences between it and the actual JCA aircraft, which will begin delivery after the first five test birds are received. The Georgia Air Guard is slated to receive the first production aircraft in 2010, and will likely deploy fairly quickly to Iraq or Afghanistan. All in all, it's quite an impressive little aircraft - and even smells like a new car inside!

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