A California Army National Guard 185th Theater Aviation Brigade operated C-23 Sherpa over San Diego. (Image © US Armny National Guard)

US Army National Guard retires Sherpa

A California Army National Guard 185th Theater Aviation Brigade operated C-23 Sherpa over San Diego.  (Image © US Armny National Guard)
A California Army National Guard 185th Theater Aviation Brigade operated C-23 Sherpa over San Diego.
(Image © US Army National Guard)

The US Army National Guard has said goodby to the Short C-23 Sherpa light tactical freighter on 9 January 2014, after two decades of service of the so-called box-shaped aircraft.

Throughout its operations in the Army Guard, the Sherpa has been used in response to natural disasters and war missions. That includes overseas deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 1991 Gulf War, and again during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn in 2003 respectively 2011. Iraqi Freedom was the invasion of Iraq by US in 2003. New Dawn was successor of it: the US military operation in Iraq after 2010, when the newly US build up Iraqi armed forces took responsibility of the security of their country bit by bit.

Back home, the Sherpa was widely used to support parachute-drop training missions for all US military services. C-23s provided disaster relief during hurricanes, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, forest fires, flooding, blizzards and the earthquake in Haiti. It was also deployed during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

According to major Matthew Moore, chief of future operations with the Operational Support Airlift Agency, the Sherpas moved about half a million pounds of cargo a month during their war missions in Southwest Asia, during the high times of combat mostly in the rear of the supply chain. The US Army had a total of 16 C-23B Sherpa, built as the military derivative of the Short 330 Utility Tactical Transport. The successor of the Short Skyvan STOL aircraft was designed and built by the Short Brothers in the northern Ireland capital of Belfast.

European distribution
The Sherpa had a maximum speed of 252 knots (468 km/u), a range of 1,030 nautical miles (1,907 km) and could operate up to 28,000 feet. It could transport 20 people or 3 pallets of cargo.

The US Air Force bought 18 the similar C-23A, as a standard distribution aircraft for its forces in Europe. When the Cold War between NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact ended in 1990, the aircraft lost its role. Six USAF Sherpas were then transferred to the US Army National Guard, which originally had 10 on strength. The recent move by US Air Force generals to drop the C-27J Spartan as successor to the Sherpas, stirred up pressure on the Guard to keep its own C-23 fleet. But to no avail.

Last flight
The last operational Sherpa journey took was flown by Shockley and crew as well, from El Gorah in Egypt. The C-23 was deployed there as an observation platform to monitor military activity on the Sinai to ensure compliance with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and to provide transportation to personnel and cargo from different locations throughout the region. Electrical issues and inclement weather caused several delays in getting the aircraft home from Egypt.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Clarence Shockley, a Sherpa instructor pilot with more than 16 years of experience on the type, praises the short-take off characteristics and economics of Sherpa missions. “A C-130 simply cannot land at every location. Sometimes a CH-47 is too expensive to operate for a light load. The C-23 is was another tool, a very stable instrument platform comfortable for the crew.”

Source: US Army with additional reporting by AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger