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The C-27J features the same engine/propeller combination as the RCAF’s newer J-model Hercules and cruises at 583 kilometres per hour. Katsuhiko Tokunaga Photo
Canada’s fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) capability is a mixed bag of 1960s-vintage deHavilland CC-115 Buffalo and mid-1990s Lockheed Martin CC-130H Hercules aircraft.
Steve Lucas, a retired Royal Canadian Air Force officer, is unequivocally confident that an Italian-designed twin-engine turboprop, the Alenia C-27J Spartan, can replace both fleets admirably.
“We have the best airplane for the job,” said Lucas, a navigator who capped his RCAF career as Chief of the Air Stafffrom 2005 until he retired in 2007, and who now is Canadian spokesperson for Team Spartan. “If you look at all the things it can do, it is the most suitable aircraft.”
The C-27J features the same engine/propeller combination as the RCAF’s newer J-model Hercules and cruises at 583 kilometres per hour—slightly faster than the H-model Hercs and significantly faster than the Buffalo. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 30,500 kilograms and a range of 4,260 kilometres with a 10,000kg payload – also factors in its favour.
“Thanks to its rapid response time, size, endurance and maneuverability, it can reach remote and austere locations around the country, including those in the mountains, in the far North and at sea,” Lucas told Skies on Sept. 14. “It is the only aircraft in its class that is fast enough to respond to SAR incidents across Canada while working from existing main operating bases.”
The RCAF’s six remaining Buffalos, stationed on Vancouver Island, are still eminently suitable for the kind of low-and-slow SAR missions offshore and in coastal mountains, but are costly to maintain. The 11 H-model Hercs flown out of Winnipeg, Man., Trenton, Ont., and Greenwood, N.S., do give search teams longer legs for Arctic and east coast offshore missions, but are less suited for close-quarters work.
Enter the C-27J Spartan, one of several contenders for a single-fleet contract for 15 to 17 aircraft and 20 years of in-service support. The Canadian government issued a complex 4,000-page request for proposals last March, but the Sept. 28 deadline for industry response recently was extended to next Jan. 11, apparently at the request of all potential bidders.
Designed and built by Alenia Aermacchi, part of the global Finmeccanica Company, the C-27J first flew in 1999 and is inservice with, or ordered by, air forces in Australia, Italy, Peru, the United States and elsewhere.
If Alenia wins the competition, “green” aircraft would be flown from Italy to Canada, where a Team Spartan group of companies, led by IMP Aerospace, would fit them out for one of the toughest SAR environments in the world.
Key elements include a mission system designed and installed by Ottawa-based General Dynamics Mission Systems Canada. While similar to the systems being installed in the RCAF’s Lockheed Martin CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance fleet and Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters, the variant in the C-27J would be “a little less complex” because, as Lucas pointed out, “it’s a lot easier to find people who want to be found than it is to find things and people who don’t want to be found.”
The SAR crews, which will use time-tested bubble windows during searches, will have their vision enhanced by an electro-optical infrared turret camera supplied by L-3 Wescam of Burlington, Ont., tied into a GDMS-C mission system.
KF Aerospace, formerly Kelowna Flightcraft, working with General Dynamics Canada, the in-service support integrator, wouldperformlong-term maintenance on the Spartan fleet, including repair and overhaul out of itsfacilities in Kelowna, B.C., and possibly Hamilton, Ont. Engine work, meanwhile, would fall to Standard Aero of Winnipeg.
Notably, the flight management system to be supplied by CMC Esterline so impressed Alenia Aermacchi visitors that the Montreal company has been given a global product mandate for all baseline C-27Js going forward. Lucas said that mandate will remain, regardless of which alliance wins the FWSAR contract.
Another intriguing aspect of Team Spartan is that its flight simulators would not come from CAE, which is allied with a competitor. “A number of former CAE employees started up their own company, called Mechtronix,” Lucas said. “That was integrated into a new company, TRU Simulation + Training, which is a division of Textron. They’re going to be providing our simulator and working with DRS Technologies (an Ottawa-based division of Finmeccanica through a parent company in Arlington, Va.) on the training solution.”
With the original RFP deadline looming, Lucas said Team Spartan had been “close” to having its response ready, only to have the extension confirmed. It was probably just as well, because at some 4,000 pages, the RFP was “very complex” in that it is specific in some aspects but challengingly general in others.
Lucas estimated that industry response would be at least double and possibly triple the size of the RFP. “I think now, with the additional time, we will take every advantage of that to ensure that our bid correctly reflects the excellence of our aircraft, the systems and the thoughtfulness that’s gone into the 20-year in-service support. We’re excited.”
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