The Lithuanian air force is scrambling to ready its third and last Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan for service supporting the country's troops in Afghanistan.
The aircraft, recently delivered to its home base at Siauliai, will this week transfer from Italian to Lithuanian registry and have its formal, religious "baptism" ceremony on Wednesday morning before its first operational mission later in the week. Base commander Lt Col Virginijus Steponavicius says base personnel are engaged in intensive pre-operational checks to get the aircraft ready for what will be a highly demanding service.
One of Steponavicius's C-27J pilots Major Juri Jaksys says the aircraft's two stablemates - delivered in late 2006 and 2008 - have already made 300 trips to Afghanistan to support Lithuania's contingent in the NATO force there.
Jaksys, who himself has 1,300h in the type, describes Lithuania's Afghan mission as challenging. At Chakhcharan, where the troops are based, the unprepared airstrip is just 1,800m (6,000ft) long and littered with large stones. And, at an altitude of 7,500ft with temperatures of 25°C (77°F) to 27°C, the Spartan is operating near its limit.
For Jaksys and his comrades, the logistical support mission is itself a logistical challenge, demanding stops in Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
© Dan Thisdell/Flight International