Alenia Aeronautica is considering a major power and lift upgrade as the baseline C-27J Spartan is set to launch a critical set of flight tests to achieve US FAA certification .

The C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) will start airworthiness flight tests the week of 28 September, and the fleet is on track to receive certification during the first quarter of 2010.

Alenia is planning to propose two major upgrades as priced options for the programme's new USAF leadership, who will officially take control of the C-27J budget and requirements on 1 October.

The upgrades include boosting the normal maximum landing weight to 29,500kg, increasing lift capacity at range by 2,000kg, and raising maximum thrust authority on the Rolls-Royce AE2100 Liberty engines by 10% to 31,500kg.

The power increase is a function of changing the software for the engine's full authority digital engine control (FADEC) system, which regulates the engine's maximum output, senior Alenia officials say.

The extra power would not reduce the engine's durability, because it would only be allowed in emergency situations. Alenia officials described an army desire to maintain operational climbing rate on takeoff even despite the loss of one engine.

The programme's future has been clouded by a major shift in numbers and leadership. Although Alenia and L-3 Communications were selected in 2007 to supply 78 aircraft to the army and USAF, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled a 2010 budget proposal that delivers 38 C-27Js to the USAF only.

Alenia delivered the first two C-27Js to the army last October to conduct flight tests. The third aircraft is scheduled for delivery by January and the fourth is expected in March or April. All four aircraft should deploy in September or October 2010 to a combat theatre.

Meanwhile, Alenia is mulling options for final assembly. The original plan called for opening a new facility in Jacksonville, Florida, but that was based on the US military buying a minimum of 78 aircraft. One option under consideration is to leverage facilities owned by DRS Technologies, which Alenia parent Finmeccanica acquired last year. DRS owns a facility in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to support the US Coast Guard's CASA HC-144 fleet.

Source: Flight International