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Published October 16 2010

119th’s new mission: Fargo home to C-27J cargo plane starting in 2013

North Dakota Air National Guard officials and Gov. John Hoeven came away impressed Friday from their first close-up look at the cargo plane that will become the Fargo-based 119th Wing’s new mission in 2013.

Hoeven and Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, were among those treated to a flight aboard the C-27J Spartan.

The twin-turboprop plane is about half the size of the better-known C-130 Hercules but more versatile and maneuverable – as the guest passengers found out when the pilot performed steep climbs, hard banks and even a barrel roll.

“The experience was incredible. I didn’t know what to expect, and I’m just overwhelmed by its capability,” Sprynczynatyk said.

The 119th Wing, nicknamed the “Happy Hooligans,” ended its

60-year fighter plane mission in 2007. Currently, members are flying the C-21 Learjet and unmanned aerial vehicles as a bridge mission to keep pilots and maintenance crews certified until early 2013, when the Fargo base is expected to get at least four C-27Js.

Sprynczynatyk and Hoeven said the plane, which can transport up to 46 combat troops or two Humvees at a time, will be valuable not only for defense but also for responding to emergencies and natural disasters.

“Using something like this would be great getting vehicles and people from one end of the state to another during a flood,” Sprynczynatyk said.

North Dakota will be one of the first six states to receive the C-27J. The Italian Air Force was first to deploy it, on two airlift missions in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009.

Capt. Denis Innocenti, an Italian Air Force pilot who logged more than 900 hours in the C-27J during those two deployments, was in Fargo on Friday as a guest with the Italian flight crew from the plane’s manufacturer, Alenia Aeronautica.

Innocenti said the C-27J’s ability to take off and land on short runways made it valuable in the mountains of Afghanistan. The plane was reliably and “highly maneuverable,” he said.

“In an emergency situation, having a maneuverable aircraft can save your mission and your life, as well,” he said.

On Friday, the plane used less than half the runway at Hector International Airport before climbing steeply into the blue sky. It also does short landings in rough areas, said Lance Martin of L3 Communications, the contractor outfitting and delivering the plane for the U.S. military.

“This thing can put down on a gravel road,” he said.

The 119th Wing’s commander, Col. Rick Gibney, called Friday’s familiarization tour “our first dose of reality” of the wing’s future mission.

For some 119th airmen, the C-27J will mean a career change.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Miller and Tech Sgt. Matthew Rippy are among those who will train over the next few years to be C-27J loadmasters. They’ll be in charge of making sure the cargo is loaded properly and balanced for flight and that personnel are comfortable and secure.

Miller formerly worked with the 119th Wing’s F-16s. The weekend warrior said he looks forward to being part of a flight crew and the travel opportunities it will entail.

“I’m excited to be in more direct contact with personnel that are in that critical need,” he said.

Rippy, who has spent 29 of his 48 years in the military, said he, too, sought the job for the chance to travel. The Audubon, Minn., resident expects to be gone much of the next three years for C-27J training.

“It’s a huge commitment for someone my age,” he said. “But I volunteered for it, and I’m excited about it.”

About the aircraft: C-27J

  • Length: 74.5 feet

  • Wingspan: 94.2 feet

  • Maximum takeoff weight: 70,107 pounds

  • Crew: Two pilots, two loadmasters

  • Capacity: Up to 46 combat troops or 34 paratroopers or 36 stretchers with six medical attendants

    Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528