Several African air arms have recently been modernising their transport fleets through acquisitions or reactivating idle fleets. Two visitors to South Africa are indicative of this. 

Lanseria saw two new notable arrivals in military transport aircraft during August: a Chinese manufactured Shaanxi Y-8F-200 of the Jeshi la Anga la Wananchi wa Tanzania (JWTZ; Tanzanian Air Force) and a brand new Leonardo C-27J Spartan of the Zambian Air Force (ZAF).

The Zambian Air Force took delivery of two new Spartans in the second quarter of this year and the visit to Lanseria on 21 August, and a second four days later, was believed to be related to training flights for ZAF crews. The order by the air arm was secured in 2015 but the end user never officially confirmed by the manufacturer until the recent delivery of the planes to Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

While the C-27J has twice been shown at the biennial Africa Aerospace and Defence expo as part of regional sales tours, this is the first visit by a customer aircraft. 

The first official confirmation of the order came in December when the ZAF’s Deputy Commander, Major-General David Muma, commented on the imminent arrival of the new aircraft while attending the annual Officers’ Ball. 

These aircraft introduce important new transport capabilities to the air arm’s operations, enabling flights into rough, unprepared airstrips while the large rear loading ramp can be opened in flight and used to air-drop supplies.

The Zambian Air Force’s current transport fleet comprises two Xian MA-60, eight Harbin Y-12s and 10 elderly Dornier Do-28 light transport aircraft. This is the latest delivery in a recent modernisation of the air force with the delivery of at least six Hongdu L-15 multi-role jet aircraft, as well as a new Gulfstream 650ER Presidential jet.

Other users of the Spartan on the Continent include Chad and Morocco while Kenya emerged as the latest client for the type, ordering three C-27Js as part of a deal worth Eur222 million that also includes an undisclosed number of AW139 helicopters. 

Kenya’s C-27Js will be the first to be equipped with a new avionics suite when delivered in the latter half of 2019. The new baseline configuration will have the new avionics system, allowing full compliance with new civil aviation regulations (ATC) and military requirements (IFF) as well as reducing operational costs. 


The ZAF Y-8F-200s were delivered in late 2003 and are operated by the JWTZ transport fleet based at Dar es-Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport. This transport squadron also operates Cessna 402Cs and Chinese manufactured Harbin Y-12-IIs.

The Y-8 may at first appear to be nothing more than an Antonov An-12 Cub clone (which it essentially is) but sharp-eyed observers will notice it has a much pointier glass nose than its Russian sibling. This is the first time this rare type has been seen in South Africa when it arrived on 6 August, although two of these have been in service with the Tanzanian Air Force since 2003. Another user of the type on the Continent is Sudan. 

The Y-8 is an unlicensed copy of the An-12 Cub that has its roots in 1960s Chinese purchase of several An-12s from the Soviet Union. The subsequent Sino-Soviet split saw the Soviet Union withdrawing all its technical assistance from China. The X’ian Aircraft Company, in co-operation with the Xi’ian Aircraft Design Institute then, under instruction from the Chinese Government, reverse engineered the aircraft for local production. The design of the Y-8 was completed by February 1972 and incorporated a glazed nose and tail turret derived from that of the H-6 bomber (which in itself is a reverse engineered Tupolev Tu-16 Badger bomber). The Y-8 was officially certified for use by the Chinese Government in 1981 and entered serial production. It has subsequently spawned more than 30 variants and is the basis of the heavily modified and modernised Y-9 and KJ-200 derivatives.