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Mothballed by Air Force, Cargo Planes Find New Life with Coast Guard

FARNBOROUGH, England -- It’s a Cinderella story. Three years after getting sent to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, a freshly refurbished C-27J Spartan sported Coast Guard colors on the flight line at the Farnborough International Air Show this week.

The Coast Guard activated its first four-plane squadron of the Leonardo-Finmeccanica aircraft this month at its Sacramento Air Station in California, culminating an effort to retrieve and re-purpose the aircraft that began with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014.

Some 21 of the $50 million planes were bought new beginning in 2007, but sent directly to Davis-Monthan in the Tucson desert due to fiscal concerns exacerbated by 2012 “sequestration” defense cuts under the Budget Control Act. Now, the Coast Guard has 14 of the aircraft, seven of which have completed a six-week regeneration process that includes inspections and operational testing.

Petty Officer 2nd Class, Ryan Jenkins, an aviation maintenance technician with the Coast Guard’s C-27J Asset Project Office, a temporary unit built to oversee the aircraft’s entry into service, said the planes were now being used for law enforcement missions, replacing aging Lockheed Martin HC-130H long-range surveillance and search-and-rescue aircraft. Some of those planes are headed to retirement, while others will find a new life conducting firefighting missions for the U.S. Forestry Service.

“The engines are better. They’re better performing and more reliable. Their props are better,” Jenkins said of the new-to-the-Coast-Guard Spartans. “They’re more efficient. This plane, we have half the fuel burn that an H-model does so it’s definitely more fuel efficient.”

Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Allen, C4ISR program manager with the Coast Guard Office of Aviation Forces said it also helps that the Spartans are very similar to the HC-130J Hercules aircraft that are replacing H-models elsewhere in the service. Over the next decade, the Coast Guard will transition out all its H-models in favor of the Spartan and the HC-130J.

“If we have a pilot that transfers from sacramento to a unit that flies HC-130Js the training time may be two weeks as opposed to an eight to 10 week transition that would happen if they came from a totally different aircraft,” Allen said. “So there’s cost savings, flight savings, time savings. All these things roll into a beneficial program for us.”

The Coast Guard’s C-27J squadron in Sacramento will eventually receive two more Spartans, Allen said. A second squadron, tentatively set to be based in Clearwater, Florida, is expected to activate in 2019.

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