In 2015, the first of 10 C-27J Spartans landed in Australia and met with an unenviable task: to replace RAAF’s adored fleet of Caribous. Operated by No. 35 Squadron from RAAF Base Amberley, the 30,500kg air mobility aircraft is designed to nestle into the sweet spot between the country’s smaller CH-47F Chinooks and larger C-130J Hercules and C-17A Globemaster IIIs.
It’s significant advantage, though, like the Caribou, is its ability to land on smaller runways with lower pavement classification numbers – that’s weaker dirt strips, to you and me. It means it can access up to 1,900 airfields in Australia compared to around 500 for the C-130J.
“That’s why when you look at this capability, special operations are very excited about it,” said WGCDR Ben Poxon back in 2018, when he was the man tasked with effectively onboarding it into No. 35 Squadron. “The C-27J is almost twice as heavy as the Caribou. What it does gain in the extra weight is range, it gets speed, it gets flexibility, but it also has defensive systems and comms that allow it to integrate on the modern battlefield.”
It’s not just about the specs but how it handles. Pilots can stay lower for longer as the nimbler C-27J will get them into and out of valleys and over ridgelines quicker. “But,” warns Poxon, “the C-27J is more difficult to land as it sits on a narrower main undercarriage track and can dip on the nose and gets light on the mains when braking. If there’s any side movements whatsoever, you almost feel it’s a little bit tippy. So, it is challenging on the runway and in higher crosswinds, but it’s just something that you have to get used to. Unlike the C-130J, which is very solid during the landing ground roll, you’ve got to continue to fly this aircraft until you have stopped.”
But perhaps the best way the C-27 endeared itself to the ADF was in its compatibility with the C-130J. The two share a similar engine and cockpit, meaning it was a simple transition for those working on everything from the logistics to maintenance and even the contracts. “I can bring a pilot from C-130J over to C-27J in six weeks, whereas it probably takes a good five months to train someone from the start or from another aircraft type,” WGCDR Poxon said. “The roles are also very similar. Everything from intelligence products, to briefings, to how we conduct business for loadmasters down the back is almost identical.
“It’s a very good purchase from that point of view.”