Special mission turboprops
Cost effective platforms gain popularity in different roles.
Illustrating the type's flexibility, the Vietnamese Navy has bought 6 Twin Otter 400s for multiple roles including maritime surveillance and crew transport. Three of the aircraft are configured as Guardian 400 models with nose-mounted EO/IR sensors, one is configured as a VIP transport, while the other 2 are utility transports. According to the manufacturer, these aircraft can be converted to floatplanes in as little as 10 hrs.
In addition, the US Army has purchased 3 aircraft for use by the Golden Knights parachute demonstration team, and the Peruvian Air Force has purchased 12 for infrastructure support.
Many of these new aircraft replace legacy Twin Otters that served in similar roles for decades. The Series 400 is available as a cost-effective replacement with updated avionics, electrical systems, structures, and engines that offer increased reliability and performance and reduce operating costs.
Viking sees this market increasing in the future as government organizations turn their focus toward procuring economical solutions for their domestic requirements.
• Special-mission singles
Cessna has sold nearly 2200 Caravans in over 100 countries. Shown here are 2 Caravans serving the Iraqi Air Force. In the top view is the AC208B Combat Caravan and that has been fitted with rockets. Only Iraq and Lebanon have AC208Bs to date. Most Caravans worldwide are used for such rolls as ISR, VIP and troop transport, parachute ops, pipeline patrol, geophysical exploration, mapping, photography and medevac.
In 2012, nearly 1/3 of all turboprop deliveries were the single-engine Cessna Caravan. Nearly 2200 Caravans have been delivered in over 100 countries—the majority in either a utility or special-missions role.
In May 2013, Canada's DAC Aviation took delivery of the first of 6 Cessna Grand Caravan EX singles. The EX is the latest version of the Grand Caravan, and it features an 867-shp P&WC PT6A-160 that greatly improves hot-and-high performance.
The remainder of the DAC Aviation aircraft on order will be delivered over the next 6 months and will operate in Africa providing cargo and passenger service for international relief and aid agencies.
In addition to the utility role, a number of Caravans have been configured for special-mission roles such as ISR, parachute operations/troop drop, pipeline/geophysical exploration, aerial mapping/photography and aeromedical. The Caravan's wide, flat floor accommodates a wide range of equipment. In addition, the Caravan amphibian is highly suitable for patrolling beaches, rivers and lakes.
Cessna promotes the Caravan as an alternative or stablemate for traditional law enforcement rotorcraft operations. The company says its fixed-wing aircraft provide good visibility, faster speeds, longer onsite loitering and lower noise signatures, all at a reduced direct operating cost (DOC).
The most popular options are forward-looking infrared (FLIR) systems and surveillance pods. Several Caravan and other single-engine aircraft perform surveillance missions for law enforcement agencies such as the California Highway Patrol, Iowa State Police, Ohio State Police, US Marshalls, US Drug Enforcement Agency and US Border Patrol.
The most extreme version of the aircraft is the "AC208B Combat Caravan." Developed by US-based aerospace and defense company Alliant Techsystems (ATK), the Combat Caravan incorporates ISR sensors, advanced communications equipment, defensive countermeasures, a laser target designator and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles.
The Combat Caravan was developed as part of US government efforts to rebuild the Iraqi Air Force by supplying counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft. In addition to the aircraft destined for Iraq, ATK recently delivered 2 AC208Bs to the Lebanese Air Force.
Escadrille Avions of the French Defense Ministry is the largest operator of Daher-Socata TBM aircraft with 28 TBM700s in its fleet. New TBM850 boasts 320 kt cruise speed, fastest cruise of any TP in this section, that lets it get to targets quickly. Company is now promoting 850's characteristics as a high speed, medium altitude, long endurance ISR platform.
Daher-Socata is beginning to see increased interest in adapting its speedy TBM850 for special missions. Multimission Business Development & Sales Mgr Pierre Garcia says, "The special-mission market currently represents a small share of our activities, as traditionally we sold our TBM850 to the corporate and private aircraft market.
However, we are seeing opportunities today [in] the multimission market for which our aircraft is well suited. Its high speed, medium altitude, long endurance, flexibility and efficiency make the TBM850 an effective platform for missions such as ISR."
According to Garcia, 8% of the 630 fielded TBM700/850-series aircraft are operated in specialized missions that include aerial survey, air ambulance, flight inspection, surveillance and time-sensitive small cargo and passenger transportation.
Largest operator of the type is the French Defense Ministry with 28 TBM700-series aircraft serving in either a training/liaison role or at the French military flight test center.
Quest Diagnostics operates a number of TBM700As transporting medical samples around the US, while a number of TBM850s are flown as air ambulances for operators around the world.
Daher-Socata is optimistic about the future of its 320-kt single. Garcia says, "We anticipate that this market will grow in the coming years, as all government operators around the world are budget-sensitive and favor a lower-cost multimission capable platform rather than highly specialized larger aircraft."