Air Transportation: Russia Loses To The Secondhand Italians

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February 4, 2011: The Afghan Air Corps recently received the ninth, of 20, C-27A transports. These Italian made aircraft are easy to fly, and very popular with their Afghan pilots. Able to carry up to ten tons of cargo, the C-27As have given the Afghan military a more reliable (than older Russian An-32s) and flexible air transport capability. For example, the C-27A can fly as slow as 160 kilometers an hour, with the cargo door open, to drop cargo by parachute.

The C-27As were obtained for Afghanistan by the U.S., from the Italian Air Force, for $16 million each. The C-27A is two engine, medium range transport, designed to fly into small airfields at high altitudes. This 28 ton aircraft usually carries six tons (or 34 passengers) for up to 2,500 kilometers and lands on smaller airfields than the C-130 can handle. The U.S. Air Force bought ten C-27As in the 1990s, but took them out of service because it was cheaper to fly stuff in the larger C-130. At least until the air force had to operate in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army and Air Force have since bought an updated (with improved electronics) version, the C-27J (a joint U.S./Italian upgrade of the Italian G-222) for their own use. The G-222 has been in service since 1978, although fewer than 200 have been made. Two of the Afghan C-27As were outfitted as VIP transports, for the Afghan president and other senior officials. That indicates how safe and reliable the Afghans consider their new, although second-hand, transports.

Afghanistan also has six Russian An-32s. These twin engine transports are actually a modernized, and most recent version, of the Russian An-24 transport. The original design is from the early 1960s. Over 1,100 AN-24s were built, and over 600 are still in use. Before the end of the 60s, some 600 of an improved version, the An-26, were built, and about 300 are still flying. It's easy to confuse the An-24 and An-26, and journalists (and government officials) often do so. In the 1970s, even more powerful versions (An-30, An-32), entered service, but only about 360 of these were made. The An-32 can carry 6 tons of cargo or up to 50 passengers. Max speed is 540 kilometers an hour and range is 2,500 kilometers. The crew consists of two pilots and a loadmaster.

Antonov built the original An-24 series to be simple, rugged and easy to use and maintain. They succeeded. Four decades later, it should not be surprising that nearly a thousand An-24 series aircraft are still working. That's not the first time this has happened. After 70 years, there are still several hundred DC-3 transports working in odd (and often remote) parts of the world. But with age comes problems. Engines, and other parts of these aging aircraft, are prone to fail at bad moments. A major problem with the An-24 is the shortage of spare parts. The network of factories producing the parts, fell apart when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The parts supply network has been slowly rebuilt, with many factories outside of Russia now producing needed components. Quality of these parts varies, which adds to the sense of adventure one has when flying in these aircraft. Thus the Afghan preference for the C-27A.

 


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