Wallaby Airlines returns to RAAF with Spartans

written by australianaviation.com.au | January 14, 2013
The Spartans of 35SQN will be located at RAAF Base Richmond. (Defence)

No. 35 squadron has been re-established at RAAF Richmond in readiness for the delivery of the RAAF’s 10 C-27J Spartans in 2015.

Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Geoff Brown welcomed the squadron’s re-formation, saying: “No.35 Squadron has provided combat airlift for Australia in several conflicts, and the C-27J is ideally suited to continue this legacy of support for personnel deployed on combat, peacekeeping, or disaster relief operations.”

35SQN, last based in Townsville operating the Caribou before disbanding in 2000, will be under the command of Wing Commander Brad Clarke, who said the squadron’s first tasks will be to work with the Battlefield Airlift Transition Office to map the required workforce structure, operating procedures and introduction plan for the C-27J. The first aircrew and maintenance personnel will be sent to train on the C-27J in the US during 2014.

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“Once in service our C-27Js will greatly increase the number of airfields Defence can operate in to, increase the level of fixed wing support available on the battlefield, and synchronise with the existing C-130J Hercules and C-17A Globemaster fleet,” WGCDR Clarke added.

Dubbed Wallaby Airlines after its callsign ‘Wallaby’ during the Vietnam war, 35SQN’s Caribou aircraft carried around 677,000 passengers and 36 million kilograms of freight without fatality during that conflict.

The newly re-established 35SQN will initially comprise 25 personnel, which will grow to around 250 once the C-27Js arrive.

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26 Comments

  • Jeff Atkinson

    says:

    One would hope thier reliabilty would be the same as the Caribou,And that they were not over developed for operations that seemingly every other military item bought is in this country that its either late on delivery by decades or unreliable for entry into service with breakdowns.Nice looking Aircraft

  • Dave

    says:

    When is the first one scheduled for delivery to the RAAF?

  • Eamon Hamilton

    says:

    “One would hope thier reliabilty would be the same as the Caribou”

    Jeff, one would hope their reliability will be several orders of magnitude better than the Caribou.

  • John N

    says:

    Dave,

    Delivery is still a little while off yet, the first airframe(s) are due to Richmond late 2015 and from what I undersand, the balance delivered during 2016, with IOC planned to happen in late 2016.

    You may or may not be aware, the production of the C27J’s is a two part process, the basic airfame is to be completed by Alenia in Italy, then the airframes go to L3’s facility in the US to have the US-specific communication and self protection equipment installed.

  • Wayne

    says:

    F/A-18F and C-17A both on time and budget. That’s what we get by buying “off the shelf”.

    A tantalising idea for a small military!

    When will we ever really learn?

  • John N

    says:

    Wayne,

    There’s two sides to buying Military Off The Shelf (MOTS) or not.

    Yes on one side is very successfully introduced to service projects like the F/A18F’s, C17A’s, the soon to arrive MH60R’s and probably the P8A’s and so on.

    All fairly easy systems to bring into service, mature systems, etc, and especially if they meet the exact, or as near as, requirement.

    And of course on the other side there has been the SH2G(a)’s, MRH90’s, Tiger ARH, KC30A’s, E7A Wedgetail, etc, those are systems that we have been a lead or the lead customer.

    There is way to much detail to repeat here for each of the above projects, but there were valid reasons for some of those decisions, at that point in time anyway, yes the SH2G’s have been cancelled, the MRH90 and Tiger’s still have a way to go, the KC30A’s need the boom sorted out, but the other roles are being done well, and the Wedgetail, whilst still not at its full potential, is a leap above other similar systems.

    But lets not forget the really big purchase of a “paper” aircraft, that decision was taken 50 years ago, eg, the F111.

    And yes 10 years of hell from the time of order to delivery, but then followed up by 37 years of great service to the RAAF.

    So yes, I agree 100% that if a MOTS solution can be found that “meets” the requirement, yes lets go with it, but sometimes a MOTS solution is not available, so in those cases risk has to be accepted.

    Hopefully we have learnt some things in recent years with being a “lead” customer, hopefully that knowledge can help with future non-MOTS purchases.

    Cheers,

    John

  • Raymond

    says:

    The RAAF’s C-27J’s would pretty much be a MOTS purchase (i.e. common to the USAF airframes), wouldn’t it?

  • John N

    says:

    Raymond,

    The answer to that is both yes and no.

    Firstly, take the C17A’s for example, ours are “exactly” to the same spec as the USAF C17A’s, with the exception that our’s have RAAF markings and a few kangaroo’s painted on them too!! So yes, they are MOTS copies of the US aircraft. (in fact all of the RAAF’s aircraft were diverted from USAF production to allow early delivery).

    On the other hand, getting back to the C27J, the “basic” C27J airframe is built in Italy by Alenia and there are currently 9 different countries operating, or going to operate them, including the USA and Australia.

    The differences between a lot of those operators and ours, some will deliver direct to them from the Italian production line, but ours will go to the USA first before delivery to have the US “specific” communication and self defence equipment (eg, the black boxes) installed.

    The RAAF aircraft are being purchased through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system, they will be built to the same spec as those operated, currently anyway, by the USAF, so they are MOTS in relation to the US spec.

    In a nutshell, the airframes, to my knowledge are to a standard, but it’s the additional equipment installed in the US aircraft that makes the difference.

    Hope that didn’t sound too confusing!

    Cheers,

    John

  • Raymond

    says:

    John,

    Okay – yes, that makes it clearer.

    As you said, they are a US FMS purchase and common to USAF specs as far as that’s concerned, so I think the answer is really yes, the C-27J’s can be considered MOTS.

    I am of the understanding that equipment purchases need to be significantly modified (i.e. ‘Australianised’) to not be considered MOTS.

    Thanks for your constructive input.

    Regards,
    Raymond

  • BANKS

    says:

    Why are these being based in Richmond? There is no air lift support above Amberly, you would think they would return the SQN to their original location Townsville…

    Why base an air lift support SQN where there already is one?

  • John N

    says:

    Raymond,

    As you say there can be “Australianised” modifications and still be considered MOTS.

    The F/A18F’s are a good example, the RAAF fleet does have some modifications compared to “standard” USN aircraft, the installation of an Instrument Landing System (ILS) and I also believe that there was a change to the radios installed.

    Obviously not major changes that are going to cause a whole lot of time, trouble and money spent on integration and R&D, those changes don’t turn them into orphans.

    The F111C’s were a hybrid, the airframe, engine and avionics of an F111A and the longer span wings and heavier undercarriage of the F111B, which were also used on the FB111A’s as well.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read where those changes caused any major R&D issues, all the parts came out of the General Dynamics parts bin!

    On the other hand one of the best (or worst!) examples is the SH2G(A), take a standard G and turn it into a complete orphan with the addition of all the avionics, etc, the enormous challenge and cost of integrating all of that and also try and change it from a 3 man crew to a 2 man crew, and we know what the end result of that was.

    It’s interesting to note that the NZ Government is now looking to buy the 11 SH2G(I)’s, as they are now called, from Karman!

    Coming back to the C27J, I don’t think there will be any supportability / upgrade problems with the airframe as it will be in service with a large number of non-US operators for a long time.

    The problem may be more to do with the ongoing support of the US specific equipment, but even if the C27J’s totally disappear from US Military service (last I read was that the aircraft may end up in the hands of the US Coast Guard), the comms and self defence equipment installed is most likely used on other US transport aircraft.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing them taking up their positions at Richmond in a few years time, be good to see the flight line full of active aircraft again!!

    Cheers,

    John

  • Darren

    says:

    John N

    We had to validate data for the F-111C and didn’t really get an accurate simulater until the AUP was done.

    Much of the delay with the F-111 related to pushing the boundaries at the time and some engineering and manufacturing issues.

    As with the above mentioned programs the closer you are to the front of a leading edge technology program the greater the risk. This applies to F-111C’s or F-35’s and all inbetween. Certainly Australia has considerations towards the purchase of defence equipment. It’s a balance between getting an item that meets our requirements and taking a risk versus accepting off the shelf and that this might be 80 – 90% of what we want, but with reduced risk.

    Getting it right is not easy. And the battlefield is a bad place to find out you got the wrong kit.

  • John N

    says:

    Hi Darren,

    The discussion with Raymond was more about the issues surrounding MOTS or non-MOTS purchase.

    I think you may have missed the point I was making in regard specifically to the “Australian” version of the F111, the C model.

    Yes of course it is a well known and documented fact that the F111 program as “whole” faced significant technical and development issues, which affected / delayed the USAF aircraft and the RAAF aircraft, that is all true.

    The point I was making that Australia received a hybrid model which made it unique, it was heavier, lower powered, compared to the USAF aircraft, its operational and performance envelope would have been different because of those changes and yes obviously we had to validate the aircraft in that form.

    But, to the best of my knowledge, those Australian specific changes didn’t cause our F111’s to have significant problems or development issue “outside” of the F111 program. I don’t think that there was any specific problem “unique” to the RAAF version that was the cause of any delays above and beyond problems with the F111’s as a whole.

    With the simulator, yes we did have a F111A simulator delivered around 1969, yes it wasn’t totally representative of the C, but it did its job. Of course after the AUP something had to be done, time and technology had moved on, and the result was a simulator that was representative of the C’s after the AUP, agree with you there.

    Getting back to your last point, if a MOTS solution is the solution, agree 100%, that is the right way to go, but there are times when a MOTS solution is not available.

    And yes of course, the last place you want to find out that your kit isn’t right is when you are being shot at!!

    Cheers,

    John

  • RichardAero

    says:

    A point of history. Wallaby Airlines was coined by RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam (RTFV) which morphed into 35 SQN after some 2 1/2 years operations (same people, same aircraft, same base, same operations) when the Australian Task Force Vietnam commenced in 1966. Also RTFV was staffed by 38 SQN personnel on 9 month rotation and supplied with aircraft from 38 SQN either during delivery from Canada or replacement from Richmond as the aircraft were written off or severely damaged in Vietnam. Wallaby Airlines was born well before 35 SQN started operations in Vietnam.

    On the C27J. To take another three years to fit some avionics to bring an existing, certified, in-production transport aircraft into service with the RAAF seems an extraordinary long time.

  • John N

    says:

    BANKS,

    If my memory is correct, both 35Sqn and 38Sqn, original operators of the Caribou, were both located at Richmond before relocating to Townsville.

    38Sqn is still based in Townsville operating the King Air 350’s

    Why base 35Sqn at Richmond? Well only the Government knows the answer to that one.

    But if you consider that Richmond was capable of supporting and operating two Sqn’s of Hercs, then it certainly has the capacity since the H models have been retired.

    To me it makes good sense, the fact that there are similarites of systems / engines shared between both the C130J’s and the C27J’s, and from an economic point of view too.

    Possibly Townsville would need significant investment in facilities, and with the Defence Budget cut to the bone, what capability would have to suffer to find the money to fund that investment?

    Just because aircraft are based at Richmond doesn’t mean they won’t deploy, when necessary, to Townsville.

    I’m just happy that we’ve got them, regardless of where their “home” base is.

    Cheers,

    John

  • John N

    says:

    RichardAero,

    “To take another three years to fit some avionics to bring an existing, certified, in-production transport aircraft into service with the RAAF seems an extraordinary long time”.

    It’s not as if there are 10 completed airframes ready and waiting in Italy to have the US gear fitted to them, the first one only entered final assemply at the end of last year, The Italian’s have to do their job first before they end up in the US.

    But yes, I agree, 3 years is quiet a while.

    Possible answer?

    We all know this current Government is short of cash, after spending it all on, well, questionable projects to “save” us from the GFC, so I can see the memo send to the RAAF:

    “Ok guys, slow and steady, we have a budget position to think about, don’t want you guys rushing into anything, OK? Take it easy don’t rush, otherwise the cheque might bounce if it’s cashed too early, got it?”

    Cheers,

    John

  • BH

    says:

    @ Banks
    While it was a surprise to see the C27s based at Richmond, there is still a lot sense in the decision, at least initially anyway. The C27s and C130s share a similar tactical mission type compared to the C17s so putting them together would have training & knowledge sharing benefits. The load master training & testing and evaluation unit that looks after cargo clearances etc is still based at Richmond, which will aid in bringing the new type into service. There is also an engine and systems similarity which makes it easier to maintain the two types next to each other. Why duplicate technical infrastructure for maintenance etc when defence are trying to consolidate and save.
    With Sydney set to remain a major defence logistics hub for the foreseeable future you would see it as beneficial to have transports located close by.

  • Darren

    says:

    John N

    I think the point I was trying to make was this.

    In selecting a hybrid F-111C we had to validate the data as it differed from every other F-111. And the F-111A simulator was considered mostly procedural, not representative of the C model. However the program was affected overal by the well known difficulties, not due to the model we brought. As Australia purchased them of the plan so to speak we accepted a risk being at the leading edge of the program, not a more developed and mature system. Hence we had a delay in delivery.

    So we have the known historical issues with the development of the F-111 in general plus the type specific changes for the C model. This worked out well for us eventually, but required a greater effort.

    I’m not saying this is wrong, just how it is. Even the different radio fit to the F/A-18F’s required certification. When we mod to the Growler we’ll need to check they are unaffected.

    Variations will always carry some risk, and require test and certification when a deviation from the specifications is undertaken.
    Darren

  • John N

    says:

    Darren,

    I’m sure we are on the same page, yes If we purchase a capability that is 100% MOTS, we should know exactly what we are receiving and it will be a known entity to be measured against.

    Going back to the C17A’s, they were introduced to service with a minimum of fuss, we had the USAF experience to follow on from, as I understand it when we received the 5th and 6th airframes, both were virtually in service from day one, delivering payloads to Australia on their delivery flights, so that is a great example of operating a well known and mature system.

    And yes, even the minor mods that were done to the F/A18F’s required certification, but they weren’t a significant risk that would have seen many years of delay, but had to be certified all the same.

    With the Growler, assuming that the mods are done to exactly the same specs as the USN, then at least we will have benchmarks to compare against.

    But going back to buying MOTS or not, sure if a MOTS solution is going to be near, spot on, or above the requirement, then yes, go down that path, lot less painful for all.

    But I think you would have to agree that somewhere down the track, (and I can’t currently think of a project other than the Submarine Replacement) that will require a solution that is not MOTS, in that case we have to be prepared to wear the time and cost of bringing that system into service.

    There will be times when a “unique” or heavily modified solution is what is needed, hopefully they can be managed as best they can with the knowledge previously learnt.

    Cheers,

    John

  • Craig Moloney

    says:

    Great to see 35SQN reformed. When I was based at RAAF Darwin in the mid 90s we had a det of 35 there
    with their Caribou. Looking forward to the C-27J coming into service. Bit of a concern the two year wait though seemed a strange (and probably budget driven) decision to retire the C-130H early with no immediate replacement. Little has been said about the “interim” light transport King Airs at 38SQN Townsville.
    I guess they are to soldier on in that role.

  • Tony R

    says:

    I would like to know if these C-27J’s can service all types of dirt strips that Caribou’s did or are they a sealed strip aircraft being turbo prop.

  • Raymond

    says:

    Tony R – good question; airforce.gov.au states:

    The C-27J has the capacity to carry significant load and still access small, soft, narrow runways that are too short for the C-130J or runways which are unable to sustain repeated use by larger aircraft.

    Within Australia, the C-27J can access over 1900 airfields compared to around 500 for the C-130 Hercules aircraft. In our region, the C-27J can access over 400 airfields compared to around 200 for the C-130 Hercules aircraft.

    The new aircraft will provide battlefield airlift but are also capable of conducting airlift in our region. They can operate from rudimentary airstrips in Australia and overseas and can support humanitarian missions in remote locations.

    Note: ‘access small, soft, narrow runways’ and ‘can operate from rudimentary airstrips’… trust this helps.

    Cheers

  • Allan

    says:

    It`s good to see 35 Sqn reformed, Even better that the government is using the facilities at Richmond for which they were built. Common avionics, equipment handling and airmovement training and development unit also located on base. It makes sense to have this capability at Richmond, If as mentioned elsewhere in these forums they need to deploy to Townsville to work with 3 Bde then they can be there in a matter of hours instead of days like the Caribou. Remember the C-27 is as fast as a Herc and has air to air refuelling capability, So it wouldn`t take much to launch a fully loaded C-27 out of Richmond, Hit a KC-30 over Amberley then continue on to Townsville. Anyway, as long as the Airforce and Army get the required result out of this aircraft then it wil be money well spent, And besides it`s primary role is battlefield airlift which nine times out of ten is ferrying the troops into places they need to get to. It will also be ideal for special forces work, Being able to get into those bare dirt fields stretched all across Australias north. Can`t wait to see them on the flightline at Richmond.

  • Jet

    says:

    Can’t wait to see the C27 in Aussie markings… Just great!!!
    Just saw A97-006 fly a couple of days ago, must say that 06 was all patched up and major work has been done to get it airworthy

  • Johan

    says:

    C27J is an impressive plane. Saw the factory demo pilot doing a barrel role at AFB Ysterplaat (Cape Town, RSA) at a airshow in 2010. Very maneuvarable. The SAAF should be buying these to replace the C47TP’s. But that is another story

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