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Founded: 6 June 2001

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March 2005

Search and Rescue (SAR) in Canada

The sheer size of Canada's territory, both land and maritime, has been a major hurdle to developing an effective search and rescue system for the nation. Despite these hurdles, Canada is considered a world leader in the field of search and rescue, boasting its status as a world expert in the field.

Every year there are approximately 8,000 search and rescue emergencies in Canadian territory, with the majority, some 80%, being maritime related. The coordination of SAR operations across Canada are dealt with by three Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCCs) located in Halifax, Trenton, and Victoria. These centres are staffed jointly by the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Forces.

The main aerial platforms for search and rescue in Canada are the CH-149 Cormorant , the CC-130 Hercules , and the CC-115 Buffalo . The latter is set to be phased out by the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue Project which was announced for fiscal year 2004-2005.

Procured in 1967, Canada's six Buffaloes have been the workhorse of the Canadian search and rescue air fleet in terms of Arctic response and operations in the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. It's short take-off and landing (STOL) capabilities as well as its suitability for operations in all types of weather has made the Buffalo an important part in search and rescue operations in Canada. With a load of 2,727 kg (or 41 soldiers), the Buffalo has an operational range of 2,240 km.

Combined with its age, the lack of a pressurized cabin, and a relatively small operational range (and equally small payload capacity), the Buffalo is fast approaching the end of its useful life with the Canadian Forces and is in need of replacement.

The prime contender to replace the Buffalo is a medium tactical transport aircraft out of Italy, known as the C27J Spartan .

The C27J Spartan: Background

The Spartan , commonly called the "Baby Herc", is a tactical transport aircraft based on the C130 Hercules and the G222 that was launched in 1997. It was developed in Italy by Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems (LMATTS) and made its first flight in 1999. Receiving Italian military certification in 2001, Italy's military placed an order for 12 aircraft to be delivered starting in July 2005.

It is very much the product of convenience as Alenia was attempting to further develop its G222 airframe at a time when Lockheed Martin was looking for a way to meet its contractual obligations to the Italian Air Force, which had just purchased a number of C130J Hercules aircraft. In 1995, Lockheed and Alenia signed a technical interchange agreement that would eventually lead to the development of the C27J Spartan. The C27 designation has its origin in the G222 aircraft, which saw service with the United States Air Force under the "C27A" designation.

Greece's Hellenic Air Force also placed an order for 12 aircraft, which have already begun delivery, making that air force the world's first user of the Spartan (interestingly enough, though perhaps coincidental, Greece is home of ancient Sparta, known for its brave and skilled Spartan warriors).

Final assembly of the Spartan occurs in Italy with Lockheed Martin taking charges of propulsion and avionics, and Alenia being responsible for certification and manufacturing and flight testing operations.

Spartan Technical Facts

Cargo Capabilities

The Spartan has an ~2.6 m high cabin which can accommodate three standard HCU-6/E pallets with a package height of ~2.1 m. Two of these pallets can carry up to 10,000 pounds each of cargo. To put that into perspective, if the average human weighs 160 pounds, that means that each pallet can transport up to 63 persons at the same time.

In another configuration, the aircraft can transport six HCU-12/E pallets, loaded at the same height, with a maximum load of 4,800 pounds on most of the pallets.

The Spartan also has the ability to "kneel". While the aircraft can accept cargo from forklifts and loaders while in a level position, if need be, the main landing gear can raise the nose of the aircraft, bringing the tail closer to the ground for loading purposes. This allows for mobile equipment to be easily driven on and off of the aircraft.

The Spartan has a maximum payload of 25,350 pounds and a consequent range of 1037 km (basically the same as going from Charlottetown to Toronto by road). On the other hand, the C27J canĀ  carry a 13,000 pound load a distance of 4,352 km.

Takeoff Factors

The Spartan is rated to transport cargo to and from runways constructed of hard packed clay, gravel, or dirt with a normal takeoff/landing weight of 67,240/60,630 pounds from a 1,900 foot runway. This allows the aircraft to operate in most of the short, unpaved runways that currently dot the maps of many operational theatres. An addition key factor of taking-off and landing in hostile environments is that the Spartan , while loaded with cargo, is still able to come into an area at a higher altitude to avoid surface-to-air missiles, especially with its countermeasure capabilities.


The Spartan is equipped with a pressurized cabin. It is also able to maintain a sea-level pressure to an altitude of 13,500 feet for medical evacuation related missions. The aircraft is also equipped with thirty-six oxygen lines for patients, six attendants, and sufficient backup power for medical appliances.

Full technical specifications for proposed Canadian SAR variant (opens in new window)

Suitability for Canadian Climate

The primary concern with any aircraft which is operated by the Canadian Forces is whether or not the aircraft is suited to operate in Canada's rugged climate, especially in the Arctic regions. Given that the C27J is being touted as a replacement to the Buffalo , Canada's designated Arctic search and rescue aircraft, it is important that the Spartan be able to operate without problem in the northern regions of our nation.

The Spartan has undergone testing in extreme winter/cold conditions and has operated effectively in those conditions. In the words of Alenia, "[the Spartan ] is rugged enough to withstand the demanding conditions of that region of Canada." The aircraft is equipped with an on-board Auxiliary Power Unit which allows it to start easily in cold temperatures and operate, without external ground support, from isolated regions.

It seems like a great transport aircraft, but is it useful for Search and Rescue?

Speed and range are the most important considerations in any search and rescue platform. With lives on the line, every second is important to those who are tasked with rescue. Given Canada's vastness, it is always important that any platform used by the Air Command, whether for search and rescue or another purpose, have a long operating range.

The Spartan has a maximum speed of 600 kph and an operational range of 4343 km with a payload of 5000 kg, the estimated weight of personnel and equipment used by the Canadian Forces in search and rescue missions.

The aircraft is also very maneuverable due to its high power-to-weight ratio. Its ability to make tight turns and climb/descend quickly are extremely important in search and rescue and equally important when operating in mountainous terrain. Its ability to land and takeoff from small runways and isolated areas makes the aircraft a major asset in SAR operations. The Spartan also has a low stall-speed, allowing it to conduct search operations at low speeds without concern.

The Spartan is also built in such a way that it is a safer platform to jump from, by reducing turbulence and providing a wider jump door, which is a key benefit to SAR Technicians.

Latest Technology for Search and Rescue

The technological capability of the Spartan , in comparison to that of the Buffalo, is considerable given the different eras in which the two aircraft are based. The Spartan has: state-of-the-art military avionics and SAR mission/communication systems; colour radar and SAR sensors for precise navigation, detection, localization (pin-pointing the location of a target), marking and tracking; and light sources that are Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS) and Night Vision Goggle compatible.

Maintenance Requirements

Given the recent media attention paid to the maintenance equipment of other Air Command aircraft such as the CH-149 Cormorant (the Forces' SAR helicopter), and the CC-130 Hercules , the level of maintenance required for the Buffalo's replacement is key. Alenia asserts a low maintenance time for the Spartan ; however given that the aircraft has only recently come into real military service (with Greece), it is still unclear exactly how much maintenance hours are required per hour of flight.

The Fixed Wing Search and Rescue Project

Funding was allocated in the 2004-2005 federal budget to purchase replacements for the Buffalo and the Hercules (the SAR variants) to the tune of $300 million per year until the completion of the procurement. Unfortunately it seems as though, despite the allocated money, the traditional bureaucratic, and perhaps even political, delay in military procurements which has affected Canada's military for far too long is taking root. It has been over a year since the allocation of funds was announced and the Department of National Defence has yet to issue specifications required for tenders to be called for procurement.

January 2007 Update

It has been confirmed that the C27J Spartan will be chosen as the new search-and-rescue aircraft for the Canadian Forces. The Canadian Government has, according to media reports, decided to forego the regular procurement process and purchase the Spartan as opposed to allowing competitors to compete for the contract (which would add several years to the already two-year-old process). A total of sixteen (16) aircraft will be procured to replace the Buffalo and the search-and-rescue variants of the CC130 Hercules .


Air-Force Technology.com, http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/spartan/
C27J Canadian Search and Rescue Variant Promotional Web Site, http://www.c-27j.ca

Code One Magazine, http://www.codeonemagazine.com/archives/2004/articles/apr_04/c27j/
Department of National Defence, Canadian Forces
Keelan Green, Thornley Fallis Communications (on behalf of the C-27J Canadian Campaign)
Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems, http://www.alenia-aeronautica.it/