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Afghan C-27A program takes flight

by Lt. Col. Mark Hersant
438th Air Expeditionary Advisor Group

9/3/2009 - KABUL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Test pilots, engineers and ground crews from Alenia North America performed an initial test flight of the first of 20 programmed Afghan C-27A "Spartans" recently in Italy.

The medium-sized tactical military transport remains on schedule for delivery to Naples in late September. Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is currently refurbishing these C-27As, which will be added to the Afghan National Army Air Corps' fleet in November.

Currently, the Afghan National Army Air Corps operates seven refurbished Soviet-era fixed-wing aircraft that are familiar platforms to the aircrews and maintenance personnel. The transition to the C-27A requires significant training already underway. Over the past three months, 30 Afghan Antonov AN-26/32 pilots traveled to San Antonio to attend English Language Training and Specialized English Training at the Defense Language Institute.

After completing of up to 12 months of language training, the Afghan pilots will attend an eight-week instrument flight rules course in San Antonio, and will obtain an International Civil Aviation Organization IFR certification. Then, 10 U.S. pilots will teach the new students C-27A transition training.

"As we're already doing with the (AN-26/32s), I look forward to working with the Americans to develop the C-27(A) program for the (Afghan National Army Air Corps)," said Brig. Gen. Mohammad Barat, the Kabul Air Wing commander. "This will ensure (the Afghan National Army Air Corp will) maximize the capabilities of the aircraft."

Officials from the Air University at Maxwell AFB, Ala., recently certified eight Afghans after a three-month basic loadmaster course July 23. Their training included weight and balance theory, loading operations, passenger handling and forklift certification. This was the first loadmaster class conducted in more than 30 years, and helped prepare these personnel for transition to the C-27A. Eight U.S. mentors provided specific loadmaster training to the recent graduates.

"The C-27(A) will be good for Afghanistan because it's much easier to load," said Faizadeen Abadi, an Air University BLM course instructor. "The roller system increased capability for loading equipment access to the aircraft, and the capacity to transport larger tactical vehicles are outstanding attributes of the aircraft."

The recent graduates of the loadmaster course said they are eager to see the new aircraft.

The C-27A is a rugged, twin-engine turboprop aircraft with short take-off and landing capability. It can carry up to 23,600 pounds of cargo and fuel, as well as operate on unimproved airfields as short as 3,000 feet. This allows access to airstrips otherwise unreachable by fixed-wing aircraft. The C-27A is an adverse-weather, day and night transport with the capability to carry 44 personnel, 32 paratroopers or 36 litter patients. A three-person crew consisting of an aircraft commander, co-pilot and loadmaster is an ideal team for the remote, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

"I can't wait to work and fly on the C-27(A). I've heard it's modern, easier to load and capable of carrying more cargo," said Sergeant Khoshal Pashtoon Zai, an Afghan National Army Air Corps loadmaster.

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