C-27J Spartan Test Pilot Depicts the Aircraft’s Outstanding Capabilities

Tarih: Issue 103 - January 2021

On the 11th of November, Leonardo Company released an exclusive interview with Matteo MAURIZIO, Leonardo's Head of Project Test Pilot Airlifters, Special Versions and UAS, who has been involved in the development of the new variant of the Spartan since its first test flights. In this interview, MAURIZIO shared his first-hand information about the outstanding capabilities of the C-27J Spartan Next Generation as well as its sophisticated in-flight experience.

In advance of the test pilot flight experience interview, the following is a short review of the capabilities of C-27J Spartan.

The C-27J was designed, developed and tested as a military aircraft, and it also obtained civil certification from the EASA / FAA in 2010.  

Thanks to its very versatile design, the C-27J is ideal for roles including troop and materials transport, medical evacuation, paratroop and materials airdrops, search and rescue (SAR), logistic supply, humanitarian support, firefighting and civil emergency operations support. Purpose-designed kits also allow VIP transport and other missions.

The Spartan has an unrivalled ability to perform short take-offs and landings (STOL) on snowy, sandy and unprepared airfields. And it is certified to do so. Compared with other military transport aircraft in its class, the C-27J has the best descent and climb rate (4,000 and 2,500 ft/min) and can also perform 3g tactical maneuvers, minimizing its approach phase and reaching a safe altitude more quickly in high threat scenarios.

The Spartan is qualified for extreme temperature conditions and it is capable of carrying its load in very hot and high conditions as already demonstrated in real operations.

The Spartan is a twin-turboprop tactical airlifter with state-of-the-art technologies in avionics, propulsion system and other on-board systems.

The C-27J has a large cargo box, capable of supporting almost 5 tons per square meter. The aircraft can carry pallets or platforms weighing up to 4,550-6,000 kilos, or 60 equipped soldiers, 46 fully equipped paratroops, 36 stretchers and 6 medical attendants or other combinations up to 30,500 kilos maximum takeoff weight.

It offers high operational effectiveness together with competitive costs, extreme flexibility, the best performance in its category in all conditions and unique interoperability with larger airlifters like the C-130 and the A400M. Vehicles can be unloaded from heavier airlifters, loaded on the C-27J and delivered straight to the frontline and austere forward operating bases without repackaging, dismounting parts or deflating tires, increasing safety and mission success. A standard 463L Pallets HCU-6E (88x108x83 in.) can be easily transferred from the C-130 to the C-27J with no reconfiguration thanks to the largest cross section in its class, the highest floor strength per unit length (4,900 kg/m) for the entire and cargo bay length the fully compatible Cargo Handling System. 

The aircraft can operate from airstrips under 500 meters. On the other hand, the aircraft has stand out with its ballistic protection capabilities. These features secure the aircraft survivability, in particularly unpaved and vulnerable runway landing or take-off. 

The Ballistic Protection consists of aramid fiber and ceramic armor panels mounted on the aircraft to provide passive protection against the threat of projectiles from the ground. The following positions are protected by the panels: pilot and co-pilot (locations A and B) oxygen converters (locations C and D) emergency oxygen bottles (location E). The Ballistic Protection system can be rapidly and easily installed or removed. The Ballistic Protection System, supplied as a kit, is able to protect from the threat of the 7.62 AP or 12.7 AP bullets according to MIL-PRF-46103E. The is also an optional defensive aids sub-system. A new version of the optional Defensive Aids Sub System (DASS) is available including: Missile Warning System with integrated Laser Warning System (MWS/LWS), Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), if required Chaff & Flare (C/F), 12 dispensers.  

The two AE2100-D2/D2A engines are rated at 4,650 shp. To increase safety and reliability, the avionics architecture is fully redundant and guarantees excellent performance and low pilot workload in whatever environmental condition and all operational theatres. Optional systems include air-to-air refueling, self-protection and head-up displays.

One version of the MC-27J, designed as “Praetorian”, has been jointly developed with ATK for Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C3-ISR) mission tasks. It includes state-of-the-art sensors and communication systems controlled by a palletized mission management system.

For VIP transport, on dedicated pallets can be installed: A VIP area with 6 business class single seats and two foldable working tables A VIP/escort passenger’s area with 18 economy class seats. The reconfiguration kits can be stowed on board: self-deploy ability. The VIP/Passengers configuration change can be done in less than one hour. One airplane to a client in South America is delivered that has a VIP kit also can be rolled in the entire section of the cabin inside the transport airplane and it can be converted from Cargo transport to VIP transport. 

The airplane can quickly be reconfigured for Fire Fighting with the “GuardianTM” System has been already tested with the C-27J and permits to airdrop from a safe altitude (500-1,500ft), also at night, 6,000 liters of water/fire retardant on a single passage with no aircraft modification.

Following the brief history of C-27J Spartan, we listen out the Leanardo's Head of Project Test Pilot Mr. Matteo MAURIZIO experience. How is it looking from inside of the cockpit?

The innovations introduced with the new C-27J Spartan Next Generation variant, improved distinctive features of the aircraft. What are the main differences between this and the previous configuration of the aircraft, of which over 85 are already flying around the world?

Matteo MAURIZIO : The main differences relate to the aircraft’s flying qualities and performance. In terms of quality, I must stress that the new state-of-the-art avionics technology fully complies with the most up-to-date international standard, called Performance Based Navigation and to have in the cockpit new features as FANS1/A+ Datalink, TCAS 7.1, ILS Cat II and Enhanced Video TAWS. This enables us to exploit all the capabilities offered by the operation in civil air spaces with no limitations and to enhance interoperability in tactical military scenarios with the integration of Mode 5 IFF/ADS-B out, tactical VNAV and Search and Rescue.

The new cockpit layout includes five new Color Multipurpose Display Units – featuring new and enhanced LED lighting and panels that increase pilots’ efficiency during a flight – a dual redundant Flight Management System, two Digital Autopilot-Flight Director Systems with auto-throttle capabilities, and a comprehensive communications suite. For intra-theatre operations, these features, coupled with the many large cockpit windows typical of the Spartan, full cockpit compatibility with NVIS/NVG night vision systems and Head-Up Display availability help to minimize pilot workload while increasing the ability to manage the mission effectively in day, night and adverse weather conditions.

In terms of performance, the new winglets offer us several advantages in terms of aircraft controllability, in particular flying at slow speeds, as well as better payload capability also in hot and high conditions.

Thanks to its exceptional structural strength, systems redundancy and autonomous operations capability, the Spartan offers unique qualities not found in other aircraft of the same class or derived from commercial turboprops.  Do the new features introduced further enhance the already good performance?

Matteo MAURIZIO : For sure. While its cruising speed of 325 KTAS (602 km/h) and service ceiling of 30,000 ft (9,144 m) will not change with the new configuration, the winglets will improve the aircraft’s climb capabilities in terms of climb gradients or MTOW of approximately 1,000 kg. This will allow us to operate from those airports with particularly steep climb gradients, which are normally served by four-engine aircraft.

Matteo, you have over 6,000 hours of flight experience on several aircraft types, from bi-sonic fighters to much slower maritime patrol aircraft, as well as around 1,000 hours on the Spartan. How do you assess the C-27J in terms of operations in theatre, and how does it behave in more benign but still challenging humanitarian support operations?

Matteo MAURIZIO : The Spartan is an excellent tactical airlifter for operational theatres. It displays great controllability in every flight condition, pilot’s situational awareness and external field of view, while the aircraft has high power engines. Collectively, these attributes are very important in the operational theatres. Furthermore, the Spartan has excellent maneuverability at low altitude, an essential characteristic for operating in full safety during marginal and critical conditions.

Compared with other military transport aircraft in its class, the C-27J has the best descent and climb rate, and can also perform 3g tactical maneuvers, minimizing its approach phase and reaching a safe altitude more quickly in high threat scenarios. Combining these elements with the self-defense system, DASS – which is available as an option and has already been adopted by several C-27J customers – provides the capability to perform evasive maneuvers at low altitude, operate safely and exploit the terrain as protection against ground-based threats. Whatever the conditions, the Spartan is a forgiving aircraft, easy to pilot even at low speed and low altitude, and with generous stall performance for an aircraft of this class.

Speaking about humanitarian operations, I think the key phrase here is ‘autonomous operations.’ The aircraft is equipped with an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), which is fundamental for operations in unprepared and unequipped strips, or in situations where the ground support, for some reason, is unable to ensure its services.

The aircraft’s long range allows it to operate without the need to refuel at the airfield destination. Furthermore, for humanitarian operations, the C-27J is the only aircraft in its class with the capability to adjust the cargo floor, both in height and inclination, to facilitate loading/unloading operations where no external support, such as a forklift or cargo loader, is available. Finally, since the Spartan is qualified to perform short take-offs and landings (STOL) on snowy, sandy and unprepared airfields, we can reach a wide range of airfields around the world, as we’ve done over many years