The C-27A Spartan was in the Air Force inventory between 1990 and 1999, and played an integral part in other Southern Command missions as well. Missions such as counter-drug operations and peacekeeping missions kept the C-27 busy during its tenure with SOUTHCOM. One of the C-27's main missions in the late 1990s was MOMEP (Military Observation Mission Ecuador Peru). MOMEP was a peacekeeping mission to help settle a border dispute between Ecuador and Peru. The airstrip utilized for MOMEP operations was only capable of handling C-27s.
The Air Force C-27A fleet consisted of 10 aircraft stationed with the 24th Wing at Howard AFB, Panama, and flown by aircrews from 310th Airlift Squadron. The C-27A Spartan transport was Howard's trademark in recent years. Built for short takeoffs and landings, it flew in and out of remote areas with dirt or grass landing strips. During the Hurricane Mitch relief effort, Spartans ferried tons of relief goods, most to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. Spartans flew most of the cargo from there to remote areas. While C-130 Hercules aircraft out of Howard AFB in Panama ferried most of the supplies into Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, it was the C-27s that delivered them to the remote locations hit hardest by the devastating storm.
A C-27 Spartan transport normally could fly the round trip from Soto Cano to the remote village of Mocoron, Honduras on a single tank of fuel, but a cargo-laden one could not take off with a full tank. Cargo-laden transports started at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, with partially filled tanks in order to take off. A makeshift fueling point made the airlift possible for the C-27s and a variety of smaller aircraft. Fuel was stored in 500-gallon fuel bladders strapped to cargo pallets and flown to Mocoron by C-27. The transport crews delivered by combat offload, that is, they landed on the small dirt strip, opened up the cargo door and pulled forward, letting pallets roll off as they taxi for take off.
Despite the C-27's accomplishments, the Air Force retired its inventory of Spartans in 1999 for financial reasons. Parts and maintenance costs were the leading reasons for the program's cancellation. The final seven C-27A Spartans were flown from Panama to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center in January 1999. The event marked both the end of an era in Panama and the first sign of the impending closure of Howard AFB in accordance with the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977.
As of November 2006, the US State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs was operating 4 C-27A in support of counter-narotics activities in South America, primarily Colombia in support of Plan Colombia. These aircraft operated out of Patrick, AFB, Florida, transporting personnel and supplies around Colombia.
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