Back on Friday the 24th of February I was given the opportunity to fly with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in one of their new C-27J Spartan twin engine tactical transport aircraft. I would have posted this information earlier but I’ve been flat out with work, a small item called the Avalon Air Show and now the Canberra Balloon Spectacular :)Designed to deliver cargo and troops into front line environments, the C-27J is derived from the Alenia Aeronautica G.222 transport manufactured by Leonardo, the conglomerate that absorbed Alenia Aermacchi along with a number of other companies including AugustaWestland. The aircraft provides the RAAF with a battlefield lift capability they’ve not had since the withdrawal of the DHC-4 Caribou some years ago and allows them to deliver loads to 1,900 airfields in the region compared to about 500 for the C-130J Hercules.
Occasionally referred to as the “Baby Hercules” due to having the same avionics and engines as a C-130J Hercules, the aircraft also has the same floor strength as a C-130 and is able to accommodate the same pallets if they’re turned sideways. This feature allows loads to be moved from a Hercules directly to a Spartan without requiring re-packing, which is a major time saver when breaking out loads for onward delivery.
The flight was being arranged as part of the media launch for the Australian & International Aerospace & Defence Exposition (aka Avalon 2017). This event involved some speeches and a number of military & civilian airshow aircraft putting on displays to give the media a taste of what they could expect when the show commenced in the next week.
I had received notification of the event from the RAAF’s media group and submitted my Expression of Interest for the media flight. About a week before the event I received a confirmation email from them with details of what to wear and where to meet on the day. Despite being rather busy at work, I was able to wrangle a day off and drove to Avalon Airport in the morning, entering the airshow precinct via the main event entrance on a side-road away from the usual airport entrance.
Very soon after arriving I was reminded that these events are not just about the aircraft as it was also an opportunity for me to catch up with some of the aviation media people I’ve worked and socialised with previously. After the speeches we all moved outside the chalet to enjoy the show with many of us moving to the fence line to get as close as possible to the aircraft as they took off and landed on the runway.During the air display the call went out for those people selected for the media flight. Leaving the others to enjoy the displays and take more photos & videos of the action, we went back inside the chalet for a briefing by the 35 SQN personnel on topics such as personal breathing equipment, what could be brought on and how the flight would proceed. We also had to fill in a standard RAAF passenger declaration form confirming that we were not bringing any dangerous goods aboard (eg: loose unprotected batteries, flammable substances, etc).
Following the briefing we were escorted out to the taxiway where some of the demonstration aircraft were being parked and many of the display pilots were assembling. Once again I was able to catch up with many of the pilots I knew and Avalon Air Ground Operations volunteers who were working in the area. There were so many folks to quickly say Hi to that I wound up very quickly at the end of the queue of people heading to the aircraft with a RAAF minder giving me the “hurry up” wave :)
We entered the aircraft via the ramp at the back which was lowered but not touching the ground, leaving us with a bit of a step up. One of the load masters was on the end of the ramp with hand extended, ready to help each of us on. Once inside we were directed to sit in the fold-down webbing seats lining both walls of the cargo compartment.
As you would expect of a combat aircraft, the interior is purely functional and designed to be able to accommodate pallets, vehicles and/or people with minimal re-configuration between loads. The walls are padded with standard military style diamond pattern insulation material that cuts down on some of the noise, but ear plugs were definitely necessary to reduce hearing damage once the engines fired up. The floor and walls were adorned with tie-down points to facilitate safely locking down loads and each of the seats had at least one personal breathing kit in case of emergency. This kit is intended to be used should the cabin fill with smoke or other gasses on board and consisted of a head covering and neck seal, clear plastic face panel and oxygen supply bottle. We had been briefed on its use prior to boarding.
I made sure I was seated next to a window although given the seats closest to the ramp had filled first, this placed my under the wing root which meant the GPS on my phone was unable to obtain a good signal, preventing accurate tracking of our flight. At least it gave me opportunities to look out, often at some of the best moments :)
With the engines fired up we taxied out and were soon in the air. The acceleration on take-off with a comparatively light load on board was certainly spirited to say the least. After a very short take-off we headed towards the South East and wound up passing over Phillip Island, going right over the race track which I was able to see out the small window (not really designed for seated viewing – it’s a military transport, not an airliner :) ).Eventually the loadies rigged a safety barrier using some tie-down straps and the ramp was opened. One of the TV cameramen, a stills photographer and the RAAF photographer were tethered to the aircraft and got to sit on the ramp itself while the rest of us were allowed to move around in the cabin once we’d put on white crash hats in case we took a tumble during turbulence. During this time I had my opportunity to be at the barrier and shot some stills & video out the back past the guys on the ramp. This was also when I wound up with a cameo on one of the local news team’s coverage as the TV cameraman had turned back to shoot at the rest of us in the cabin :)
I moved back to my seat and gave my helmet to one of the other media guys who hadn’t left his seat as yet. At this point the aircraft then turned back to the north and came up over Mount Eliza and past Carrum Downs and Moorabbin, over St Kilda and up to the city where it commenced a right hand orbit starting low over the Docklands. One of the loadies let me shoot video out a right-hand side window as we did the big orbit from the Docklands to Parkville, around Collingwood and the Melbourne Cricket Ground then over Southbank and back out to the Docklands. I’m hoping to get the video edited and up on the site in the not too distant future but, given how long it’s taken to get this review posted, I wouldn’t be holding my breath while waiting for it :)When this media flight had first been announced the indications were that our flight would have been in formation with the RAAF Roulettes formation aerobatic team but, sadly, this was not to be. I’m guessing the certifications and clearances required to allow the Roulettes to fly a tight formation on a C-27J had not yet been completed, thus preventing them from joining us, which is a shame as it would have made for some fantastic photos and videos.
Once the orbit was completed the loadies closed up the ramp and we returned to our seats as the pilots commenced a low-level tactical run on the way back to Avalon. By craning my head around I could look out the window behind me and recognised a few of the landmarks as we raced back at around 500′ above the ground. During this time a couple of the media guys took the opportunity to record their commentary while sitting on the step up into the cockpit with one of the loadies helping to steady the camera guy. I was fortunate to be looking out the window when we came barreling in over the top of Avalon at about 200′ and going flat out which let me see the hangars, display halls and runway flash past as we cranked over pulling a few G’s in a banked turn going roughly perpendicular to the runway. Fantastic! :)Following our buzzing of the airport we went and had some more low level fun as the last of the media recordings were wound up, then everyone buckled up for the landing. With the low-level bouncing around and no view, many people were starting to look a bit green while some took out their barf bags just in case. I’d already double-bagged mine at the start of the flight and had it ready to grab in my pocket but never wound up needing it.
Note: Double bagging means putting one paper barf bag inside another to try & avoid the problem where any fluids dissolve the paper and dump the bag’s contents. Not a pleasant thing thus putting one inside another helps give you more time to get the bag into a garbage bucket :)
We had been warned to expect some intense deceleration as we’d be doing a tactical landing and they certainly didn’t skimp on the stopping power. We’d barely touched down when the propellers were cycled to full reverse pitch, the revs came up and the brakes went on. Even with a good grip on the seat frame with one hand and the wall behind me it was rather intense and we stopped in a VERY short distance!Once off the runway the ramp was opened once again and the aircraft again used its reverse pitch to back into its parking space with the loadies on the ramp giving directions to the pilots. Nice trick!
I stayed on board to thank the crew and RAAF media people while the rest of the group got off, many looking very relieved to be back on the ground. From the aircraft we were taken back to the chalet where they fed us some sandwiches and drinks. I was ravenous and very happy for the feed, not to mention a can of Solo that went down extremely quickly :)
My thanks to the RAAF for accepting my application and allowing me to come along for the flight. It was an awesome experience and helped demonstrate what an amazing aircraft the C-27J Spartan is. I’m very happy that my first official RAAF media flight was in the Spartan :)