When you think 'sherpa,' the first thing that comes to mind is probably the folks who help people climb Mount Everest. Unless you're a pro, you're probably not thinking about the Army's C-23 transport plane.


Wait, the Army has a transport plane? That's right. You see, the Army operates unarmed, fixed-wing aircraft. After the Army and Air Force split, the Air Force got the armed aircraft in the divorce settlement.

One of the unarmed transports the Army flies is the C-23 Sherpa. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Sherpa was acquired to serve as an intra-theater transport between U.S. Army bases in Europe. However, the plane soon took on responsibilities beyond that limited role. The C-23 can haul up to 30 troops or three pallets of cargo. The plane is also capable of using smaller runways than the C-130 Hercules and is cheaper to operate than a CH-47 Chinook. With a top speed of 281 miles per hour and a range of 771 miles, the C-23 soon found work outside Europe as well.

A C-23 Sherpa over Europe in the 1980s. (Photo from USAF)

According to a 2014 United States Army release, the C-23 was used in the American peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula. The plane was also a valuable asset during Operation Iraqi Freedom, moving cargo to places where C-130s couldn't land, which was particularly valuable in humanitarian relief missions.

Related: This is what happened when a C-130 and a C-17 had a baby

Ultimately, the United States bought 62 airframes and, aside from losing one in a crash, the planes remained in service until it was retired in 2014 to be replaced by the C-27J Spartan. Still, the C-23 isn't going away just yet. Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the Philippines are receiving some of these short-haul airlifters as second-hand assets. As for the C-27J, it was retired by the Air Force and Air National Guard without replacement.

A US Army (USA) C-23B Sherpa aircraft assigned to Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment unloads Soldiers at an undisclosed airfield in Iraq, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. (USAF photo)