SALISBURY — The Salisbury-Ocean City-Wicomico Airport was visited Wednesday by the Maryland Air National Guard for a tour and demonstration of maneuvers by the C-27J Spartan aircraft.
The tour brought out several government officials, including Salisbury Councilmembers Laura Mitchell and Tim Spies, as well as Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt.
“It was an experience,” said Spies after touring the aircraft.
While sharing a similar role to the C-130 Hercules class aircraft, the Spartan is considerably smaller. While that means less space for fuel and cargo, it also means that the Spartan can get into, and out of, tighter spots than its larger cousin.
“It operates autonomously in remote and austere environments and can take off and land from unprepared surfaces and airstrips less than 2,000 feet,” according to a release issued by Jim Fineran, public information officer for Wicomico.
Fineran continued to stress the “flexibility’ of the Spartan, noting that it can fill in for larger aircraft when needed.
The C-27J provides a true multi-functional, military aircraft designed and built for tactical transport and to support combat operations,” he wrote. “This twin-engine turboprop aircraft boasts state-of-the-art avionics, propulsion and systems. The C-27J offers superior and cost-effective performances in any operational condition, extreme mission flexibility, and is uniquely interoperable and interchangeable with heavier military air lifters.”
The crew of the Spartan agreed with Fineran’s assessment.
Senior Airman and State Senator J.B. Jennings emphasized that the new planes are not just meant to look pretty and give maneuver demonstrations.
“These are in combat,” he said. “These are getting shot at every day.”
Currently deployed in Afghanistan, the C-27J that visited Salisbury is slotted to ship overseas with its crew sometime next year, either next April or September. In combat, the C-27J performs a variety of duties, including trooper and equipment transport and High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) drops.
“We also do [medical evacuation] drops,” said Jennings.
The craft is capable of carrying about 46 combat troops or 10 tons of cargo, though Col. Gordon Kinney explained that much cargo is unrealistic.
“There’s always a trade-off between cargo and fuel,” he said.
Instead, he ball-parked six to seven tons of cargo would be a more reasonable limit.
The Spartan was relatively unburdened for its maneuvers Wednesday and effortlessly launched and landed, including several assault landings, where the plane touched down briefly before immediately taking off again. Despite the craft’s impressive specifications and showing, Kinney revealed that it is not going to be the new standard.
“They’re not meant to replace the mission of the C-130’s,” he said.
For operations that require more size and cargo space, said Kinney, the military will stick to the traditional Hercules. But the flexibility of the Spartan will means there will always be a need for it.
“It’s small enough to get into a lot of fields a C-130 can’t,” said Jennings.