• Image: Nigel Pittaway
    Image: Nigel Pittaway

Defence has confirmed that an undisclosed number of the Royal Australian Air Force’s ten Leonardo C-27J Spartan airlifters have been grounded after fatigue cracking was found in their empennages.

The aircraft were inspected following an Alert Service Bulletin issued by Leonardo, the Italian manufacturers of the airframe that warned about fatigue cracks which have been detected around the fin and horizontal stabiliser attach points.

“The Royal Australian Air Force has initiated inspections on Australia’s C-27J fleet and identified similar issues,” a Defence spokesperson said. “Aircraft found to have cracking will not be flown until an engineering assessment has been completed.”

The news follows a Forbes report in the US that all 14 of the Spartans flown by the US Coast Guard have been grounded with similar issues.

The report says that a repair scheme has been developed by Leonardo but it is unclear whether this will also apply to Australia’s aircraft.

Fatigue testing of a C-27J structure is currently being undertaken by DST Group at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne, but it is equally unclear whether the cracking was detected by this program.

Australia acquired ten C-27Js were acquired under Project Air 8000 Phase 2 (Battlefield Airlift Capability) and the first aircraft arrived in Australia in June 2015. Despite the green aircraft being built and flown by Leonardo in Turin, the RAAF’s aircraft were purchased under a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) arrangement with the US. The completed aircraft were flown to Waco in Texas, where they were modified for the now-defunct Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) role by L3.

Despite achieving Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2016, the RAAF’s Spartans have not achieved Final Operational Capability (FOC) – or at least, FOC has not been publicly announced - and in 2021 the fleet was relegated from the battlefield airlift to humanitarian and regional assistance roles.

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