Tuesday, December 15, 2009

C-27J training operations center opens

by Wayne Crenshaw, 78th Air Base Wing

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Air Force, Army and community officials celebrated the opening of a new cargo plane schoolhouse Dec. 9, here.

The C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft Schoolhouse will be used to train pilots of the C-27J, the new cargo plane used to reduce the need for ground convoys in dangerous areas.

After years of development by the Army, the C-27J Spartan program has shifted to the Air Force, but will be a joint program and both Army and Air Force pilots and loadmasters will attend the school.

The school has already been in operation at Robins Air Force Base since Sept. 9, when the first of two C-27J planes arrived here, but the school will be under development through 2011. Still to be added are a operational flight trainer and a fuselage trainer. A mockup cockpit has already been installed.

"This aircraft will provide the capability to fly in Afghanistan where they do not have the infrastructure to handle our larger aircraft," said Army Col. Anthony Potts, the project manager for aviation systems. "It will have the capability to get supplies not within 50 miles of our forces but within the last tactical mile."

The school had already been operating on a temporary basis in Waco, Texas, but transferred here Sept. 9 with the arrival of the first plane. That allowed the first graduating class of the school to be recognized at the ceremony.

The program calls for a minimum of 38 aircraft, but Army Maj. Gen. William T. Nesbitt, the adjutant general of Georgia, said at the ceremony that he believes that number will eventually rise to 78. The aircraft will be stationed at Air National Guard bases.

He said after the ceremony that that the aircraft will definitely save lives if the program's potential is fully realized.

"It will (save lives) if we field an adequate number of aircraft, but right now I don't think 38 is enough," he said. Development of the school is a $1.8 million project, which includes $300,000 from the state of Georgia, $125,000 from the city of Warner Robins and the Houston County Development Authority, and $50,000 from the Macon-Bibb Development Authority.