May 15, 2004


In August 1990, the USAF selected the Alenia G222 as its Rapid-Response Intra-Theater Airlifter (RRITA) and ten were ­stationed at Howard AFB, Panama, to support U.S. Southern Command operations in Latin America.

A moderate success for its Italian manufacturer Alenia, S.P.A when it appeared in the 1960s, the G222 is now flown by Italy, Argentina, Dubai, Nigeria, Thailand and Venezuela in a variety of roles that include airlift, paratrooping, radio/radar calibration, fire-fighting and electronic warfare.

The aircraft’s subsequent career might have stagnated had not Lockheed Martin stepped in 1995. During discussions on possible offsets for an Italian order of its C-130J, Lockheed Martin and Alenia conceived an updated variant of the G222. Company executives concluded that there was a need for an updated version of the G222 and the following year a feasibility phase was launched with the Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems (LMATTS) company formed in November, 1996. The first C-27J Spartan (NC4043, I-CERX) was rolled out on June 14, 1999 at Caselle Turin, and the first flight followed on 24. September 1999.

Observers note that the G222 had been reborn with a glass cockpit, AE 2100 turboprops and Dowty six-bladed propellers and renamed the C-27A “Spartan.” The C-27A Spartan would be built by Alenia Aerospazio but marketed worldwide by Lockheed Martin which was also responsible for the propulsion and avionics.

To the military, it was perfectly suited for short-to-medium range tactical operations into semi-prepared airfields as short as 1,800 feet (549m) with its cargo capacity of more than 2,000 cubic feet, or 12,000 pounds (5,443kg). But its key selling point was its compatibility to Lockheed’s more famous product: it incorporated the same propulsion system and advanced avionics as the C-130J Hercules II. The media called it the “Baby Herc” and LMATTS could have hoped for no better publicity.

Naturally, the aircraft’s first customer was the Italian Air Force which ordered 12 aircraft with deliveries between 2001-04.

The C-27J comes at an opportune time. Like the Canadian Forces, there are several air forces worldwide looking to replace their aged De Havilland Buffalos and Caribous. One of Lockheed’s biggest problems is that over the years they built those amazing C-130s and that the older aircraft are still doing well. The company finds itself competing with its own products. But with time the replacement market can only grow and those same air forces will be looking to replace their old C-130s within the decade. Lockheed Martin hopes that in buying the Spartan, it might just be the first step to buying the C-130J – ­keeping it within the family.

Peter Pigott is FrontLine’s regular Aviation correspondent. His twelfth book “Taming the Skies: A Celebration of Canadian Flight” has just been published by the Dundurn Group. www.dundurn.com.
© FrontLine Defence 2004