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C-23 Sherpa Cargo Plane

The C-23 Sherpa is the Army's only cargo airplane, an all-freight version of the Shorts 330, built at Short Brothers Belfast, Northern Ireland aerospace complex for the US military and the Royal Air Force. The C-23 entered service in 1985 -- variants are CH-23A Sherpa and C-23B, C-23B+ (or C) Super Sherpa.

The C-23A/B Sherpa is primarily employed by the Army National Guard (and a small number by the USAF) for missions requiring an aircraft that is capable of intra-theater transport of cargo and personnel, with faster, higher-altitude performance and longer-distance coverage than helicopters. The C-23 Sherpa achieves low operating cost due to a very simple design that emphasizes ease of loading and maintenance. The aircraft consists of a 5.5 feet square cabin section for the crew of three forward of an open hold 36 feet long with 6.5 feet of headroom. Access is by a full width, hydraulically operated rear ramp door with removable roller conveyors and a large forward freight door. A small baggage compartment is located in the nose.

U.S. Army C-23B Sherpa cargo aircraft from Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment, Georgia Army National Guard, taxis to its parking spot, Balad Air Base, Iraq, 16 December 2004
U.S. Army C-23B Sherpa cargo aircraft from Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment, Georgia Army National Guard, taxis to its parking spot, Balad Air Base, Iraq, 16 December 2004.

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C-23 Sherpa Cargo Aircraft

The C-23 Sherpa can be configured to haul cargo or personnel. It can easily handle twenty people or four LD3 pallets. It is slow, but thrifty with per-ton-mile efficiency far better than e.g. the CH-47 Chinook or UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. The C-23 Sherpa has earned its place on the Army team with capability that takes a load off USAF C-130 Hercules transport priorities, delivering troops and cargo to unimproved airfields close to the battle, more rapidly and with heavier loads than Army helicopters. Drawbacks to the C-23 Sherpa include the need for longer runways than the C-130, low speed and limited range. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the C-23 Sherpa has performed well, flying low and at max speed (200 mph, 100 feet altitude) to avoid ground fire.

The C-23B/B+/C Super Sherpas are upgrade variants based on the Shorts 360 with two Pratt-Whitney PT6A-65AR turboprop engines. Planned replacement of the C-23 Sherpa will be with the Joint Cargo Aircraft -- larger than a Sherpa but smaller than a C-130 -- expected to be fielded by 2008.

C-23B Sherpa Specifications and Performance

Wing span74 ft. 10 in.
Length70 ft. 10 in.
Height23 ft. 8 in.
Floor width6 ft. 2 in.
Weight26,000 lbs. max
ArmamentNone
EngineTwo Pratt-Whitney PT6A-45R turboprop
Maximum speed218 mph (@10,000ft)
Range770 mi.
Service ceiling12,500 ft.

The C-23 Sherpa aircraft is not pressurized, requiring oxygen masks for crew and passenger safety during sustained flight above 10,000 feet altitude.

The first C-23A Sherpa aircraft accepted by the U.S. Air Force on the factory flightline during its official rollout ceremony, 8 August 1984
The first C-23A Sherpa aircraft accepted by the U.S. Air Force on the factory flightline during its official rollout ceremony, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 8 August 1984.

C-23 Sherpa
C-23 Sherpa from 10th Military Airlift Squadron with a C-5A Galaxy aircraft of the 436th Military Airlift Wing, on the hot cargo pad, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, September 1986. The C-23 Sherpa made the stop to pick up passengers, take on cargo and refuel.

C-23A Sherpa from 10th Military Airlift Squadron flying over the Rhine Valley from Zweibrucken Air Base, West Germany, 21 September 1988
C-23A Sherpa from 10th Military Airlift Squadron flying over the Rhine Valley from Zweibrucken Air Base, West Germany, 21 September 1988.

Army C-23B Sherpa assigned to Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment unloading soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq, 16 December 2004
Army C-23B Sherpa assigned to Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment unloading soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq, 16 December 2004.

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