Special mission turboprops
Cost effective platforms gain popularity in different roles.
In 2008, according to the USAF, the Secretary of Defense tasked the service to acquire 37 C12 (King Air 200/300/350) class aircraft to augment UAS intelligence-gathering resources. In less than 8 months from initial funding, the USAF and its team of contractors was able to field the first aircraft in theater.
According to Beechcraft, the US Dept of Defense is the largest operator of Beechcraft special mission aircraft and the King Air serves with every branch of the US armed forces.
Piaggio P180 Avanti II
Piaggio Multirole Patrol aircraft is a offshoot of the P.180 Avanti II. This model has an elongated wing allowing it to carry more weight in sensors and also to permit loitering on long range missions. It carries top and bottom mounted Airborne Early Warning (AEW) radar. And note circled Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD) boom protruding from aircraft's tail. Through a sensor at the end of the MAD boom it can locate submerged submarines due to the fact that the heavy metal hull of the sub disturbs the earth's magnetic field as it traverses it.
Other manufacturers, such as Piaggio Aero, are placing more emphasis on special mission aircraft based on a confluence of events such as the continual evolution of sensor technologies and stressed budgets of governments around the world.
HammerHead removes pilot from Avanti
According to Piaggio, the special mission configuration is becoming ever more important to its P180 Avanti business—14% of all Avantis delivered to date have been special mission variants. The company believes this percentage will only grow as more governments and organizations look for lower-cost solutions to a range of surveillance and other mission requirements due to the availability of smaller, lighter sensors and onboard systems.
In fact, Piaggio believes that special mission aircraft will eventually represent up to 50% of all deliveries. The company is so confident in the special mission market that it has launched 2 new additions to the Avanti family—the Multirole Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and the P1HH HammerHead unmanned aerial system (UAS). (See sidebar.)
The Piaggio Aero MPA is an evolution of the P180 Avanti II platform, designed to meet the need for a robust high-tech solution for land, coastal, maritime and offshore security. Main features are an enhanced airframe, increased MTOW, additional fuel tanks and a new aerodynamic configuration with a reinforced wing that provides an increased surface area and higher aspect ratio.
The MPA will be able to fly up to 41,000 ft, with an endurance of 10-plus flight hours, maximum range of 3300 nm and a cruise speed of 350 kts.
MPA's first application, developed with Saab, will be dedicated to maritime patrol. This project fits a high-performance search radar and electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors suite integrated into a mission management system for conducting a wide variety of missions.
Currently, there are 32 Avanti aircraft in special-mission configurations. They consist of 18 air ambulances, 9 maritime/territorial surveillance aircraft and 5 modified for the flight inspection and calibration mission.
These aircraft are operated by the Italian military and other organizations such as ENAV (Italian company contracted for flight inspection services), Russian JSC Flight Inspection, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (transport/air ambulance) and the Polish Air Rescue Service.
Viking Air Twin Otter 400
Viking Twin Otter Guardian 400 is comfortable on wheels or floats. About a quarter of all sales go to military organizations for surveillance, supply support, SAR, parachute ops, crew transport, medevac, data collection and surveys. Recent sales include 12 Twin Otter 400s purchased by the Peruvian Air Force for infrastructure support, 6 to the Vienamese Navy for crew transport and maritime surveillance and 3 to the US Army for the Golden Knights parachute demo team.
Based in Victoria BC, Canada, Viking Air produces the Guardian 400—a special missions version of the Twin Otter Series 400. According to Viking, approximately 25% of the new production Twin Otter 400s delivered to date have gone to military organizations either as land or floatplane-based platforms.
The Guardian 400 can be customized for many roles, including maritime surveillance, critical infrastructure support, SAR, parachute ops, crew transport, medevac, environmental data collection, and aerial surveys.