Australia has just welcomed it’s first C-27J in country and while I look forward to seeing her and her sisters serve our nation long as I am a avid supporter of the Spartan and believe it fills a vital roll in our Air Mobility Group’s lift capability I am on record as stating that I laugh when I see or hear people call it the ‘Caribou’ replacement.
There is a reason for this grounded in fact and reality and based solely on the performance data on both aircraft. If you look at the STOL capabilities of the two they do not match the DHC-4 is capable of landing and taking off in far shorter distances than the C-27J had we been able to the DHC-5 would have been a much better buy as the DHC-5 Buffalo is a Caribou with a Turboprop engine, giving it even better capability. However at the time of our seeking a replacement for the aircraft we had, the DHC-5 was not being made. Rather we had two options when it came to a replacement, Airbus’s offering (EADS CASA C-295) and Alenia and L3’s (The C-27J), after comparing the two aircraft looking at various factors we choose to purchase the C-27J Spartan Battlefield Airlifter from Alenia and L3, we did so because it offered us Commonality between our Turboprop fleet (The C-130J-30 and the C27J share a majority of systems with each other including cockpit, engine and prop components), the fact we could get the aircraft ‘cheaply’ by joining a US buy at the time and also due to the fact that unlike like Airbus it could take the standard pallet sizes we already use on both the C-17 and C-130J-30 airframes.
While all these are a bonus there is however one thing that we lost during the replacement and that was take off distance, the C-27J is not capable of making the same take off distance as the DHC-4, based on published performance data the DHC-4 needs 1,200ft Maximum take off weight to get airborne, at Minimum weights the C-27J needs the same and it increases obviously as weights go up. Our own Defence Force and Government release papers have acknowledged this fact and based on their published documents it is their feeling that the sacrifice of some short field capability in return for the benefits gained are worth the change especailly given that we had little choice in replacing the DHC-4 which had been in service for over 35 years and showing their age.
To be a true Bou replacement the Spartan would have to be able to match the Bou and or beat it in all regards, it can not. But that’s alright, the Spartan is a great aircraft and it can and will no doubt prove such in the years to come and if it can’t? Well we have shown in the past that when a bird doesn’t do what we want it to do at the start, we’ll find a way to fix it.