Why Lockheed Martin will keep on truckinů
Lockheed Martin is aggressively marketing its PZL subsidiary's M28 Skytruck to African customers looking to replace existing An-28s, Airbus C212s, and even Mi-17 helicopters. Jon Lake reports.
The acquisition of US rotary-wing giant Sikorsky by Lockheed Martin last year meant another new owner for the Polish PZL Mielec factory.
PZL had been wholly owned by Sikorsky parent, the United Technologies Corporation (UTC), since March 2007.
Under Sikorsky’s leadership, the emphasis at PZL was on aerostructures work for its rotorcraft line, though work on PZL’s own designs, including the twin turbo-prop, M28 STOL (short take-off & landing) light transport aircraft, did continue.
The M28 is an all-metal, twin-engined, braced high-wing cantilever monoplane with twin vertical tails, a fixed tricycle undercarriage and a clamshell rear loading ramp.
The powerful engines and high lift devices permit STOL operations at high weights and from hot and high airstrips, while the titanium reinforced, heavy-duty, non-retractable tricycle landing gear, with its steerable nose wheel, low-pressure tyres and anti-skid brakes, allow operation from short, unpaved and austere landing strips.
The aircraft can operate from rough strips less than 1,000ft (345 metres) long and is designed to be easily reconfigured for different roles, including passenger and/or cargo transportation, medical evacuation and paradropping, while specialised sub variants have been produced for maritime reconnaissance and patrol and for search and rescue missions. These are equipped with 360-degree inverse synthetic aperture radar, high-definition infrared/electro-optical sensors, other sensors, secure data links, antisubmarine warfare (ASW) sonobuoy launchers and a magnetic anomaly detector.
The US Air Force (USAF) procured 16 M28 Skytrucks, under the designation C-145A, to replace the MC-130E Combat Talon I and fly special operations forces (SOF) to and from small, semi-prepared landing zones in Afghanistan and eastern Africa.
The aircraft also undertook Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) aviation foreign internal defense mission assessing, training, advising and assisting foreign aviation forces.
The airdrop capability of the C-145A proved essential for combined operations in eastern Africa, allowing SOF teams to operate in isolated, forward-deployed locations.
The C-145A was ordered in 2009 and entered service in March 2011. One was lost in a landing accident at Walan Rabat landing zone, Afghanistan in December 2011.
The USAF is now retiring 10 of the aircraft to the ‘boneyard’ at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The first arrived in May 2015.
Five of the aircraft will remain in service with the 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group to support continued training.
The M28 is not, strictly speaking, an entirely indigenous Polish design. Instead, it is a Polish-built version of the Soviet (now Ukrainian) Antonov An-28, which was itself derived from the smaller six-seat An-14.
The prototype made its maiden flight on January 29 1973 from Svyatoshin airfield, and a small pre-production batch of about 21 aircraft, including prototypes, was built before production transferred to PZL-Mielec in 1978.
The first Polish-built aircraft flew in 1984, and 170 were built – 157 of them for Aeroflot – as PZL An-28s.
The aircraft was subsequently westernised by PZL Mielec, with some western (BendixKing) avionics, 1,100shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-65B turboprops, and five-blade Hartzell propellers.
The new PZL M28 Skytruck made its first flight on July 24 1993 and received Polish certification in March 1996, and its US Federal Aviation Records (FAR) Part 23 certificate on March 19 2004. The aircraft now has Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification and is in limited production.
Transport aircraft represent a key part of Lockheed Martin’s DNA, and the company already offers the four-engined C-130J Hercules, and the twin-turboprop Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems (LMATTS) C-27J Spartan.
The C-130J carries a 20tonne payload, or up to 92 troops, over a 1,800nm range, while the C-27J can carry 60 troops or a 10tonne payload over a 1,000nm range.
But these aircraft are too big and too expensive for many African requirements, lacking sufficient STOL and rough field capabilities. For this reason, many African operators use rotary-wing aircraft like the Mil Mi-17, which can carry 24 troops or up to 5,000kg, while the Airbus Military C212, with its 2,700kg payload and ability to lift 24 troops, has also proved particularly successful in Africa.
The PZL M28 has given Lockheed a product that can compete at this end of the market, taking off more quickly and in a shorter overall distance, than an Mi-17 helicopter carrying an equivalent load, according to Lockheed Martin sources.
There has already been interest in the type from commercial mining and cargo companies, relief and humanitarian operators, and air forces in Botswana, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia.