In the mid-2000s, during the height of American involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters of war, United States Special Operations COMmand - US SOCOM - required a budget-friendly (commercially-available) light utility aircraft capable of fulfilling very-mission-specific parameters for its special forces missions. The result was the reimagining of the Swiss-originated Pilatus PC-12 passenger/cargo aircraft to become the "U-28". Since their inception, the fleet has been used for a myriad of special-minded tasks including mission support through (manned) tactical Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Search and Rescue (SAR), and humanitarian operations support.
The PC-12 series has seen formal operations since introduction in 1994 and over 1,700 have been built to date - marking it a successful aircraft design for Swiss-based Pilatus Aircraft.
All of the form and function of the original civilian market PC-12 is retained in the U-28 including its single engine layout, crew/passenger cabin, low-mounted wing mainplanes, and single-rudder "T-style" tail unit. A retractable tricycle wheeled undercarriage allows for ground-running. Beyond inherent reliability and excellent performance from its nose-mounted turboprop, the U-28 also showcases short-field / rough-field capabilities.
Where differences end between the U-28 and its civilian market counterpart is in the installed equipment: the platform bristles with tactical communications sets, Electro-Optical (EO) sensors, protected data-links (DoD and NATO types support), real-time full-motion video processing, and survivability systems. These systems result in special protrusions emanating from the fuselage and wing members and not seen in the commercial model.
The U-28's crew consists of four personnel made up of two pilots, a Combat Systems Officer (CSO), and Tactical Systems Officer (TSO). The crew is seated side-by-side in a 2x2 arrangement in the cabin. The instrument panel includes an all-modern glass cockpit.
Power is served from a single Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67B turboprop engine installed at the nose and used to drive a four-bladed propeller unit in conventional "tractor" fashion. This provides the aircraft with a maximum speed of around 220 knots, a range out to 1,500 nautical miles, and a service ceiling up to 30,000 feet. Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) reaches 11,000 lb.
The United States Air Force has operated as many as twenty-eight U-28A models with 14 currently (2020) noted as in-service with the branch. The 34th, 318th, and 319th Special Operations Squadrons are listed as key operators of the type while the 5th and 19th Special Operations Squadrons are charged with the types training.
May 2020 - U.S. SOCOM is intending to replace its in-service fleet of U-28 aircraft with the winner of the USAF's "Armed Overwatch" program.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Special-Mission: Airborne Early Warning (AEW)
Specially-equipped platform providing over-battlefield Command and Control (C2) capability for allied aerial elements.
✓Special-Mission: Electronic Warfare (EW)
Equipped to actively deny adversaries the ElectroMagnetic (EM) spectrum and protect said spectrum for allied forces.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
Serving Special Forces / Special Operations elements and missions.
47.2 ft (14.40 m)
53.3 ft (16.25 m)
13.9 ft (4.25 m)
11,023 lb (5,000 kg)
11,023 lb (5,000 kg)
+0 lb (+0 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Pilatus U-28 production variant)
1 x Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67B turboprop engine developing 1,200 horsepower driving a four-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
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