MC-12W Liberty

USAF Project Liberty Slide

USAF Project Liberty Slide

Manned spy plane flies 1st combat sortie

The Air Force’s newest intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform flew its first combat sortie Wednesday, about seven months after the contract for the plane was first awarded.

An MC-12W Liberty took off from Joint Base Balad, Iraq, at 2:30 p.m. for a four-hour mission, according to an Air Force news release.

The manned ISR aircraft has been on a fast track to the war zones since the $461 million program was launched in July by a Pentagon task force. The Air Force plans to deploy 37 MC-12s to supplement the MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers already flying orbits around the clock.

MC-12Ws are twin-propeller Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350 airplanes outfitted with high-tech ISR sensors; unlike Predators and Reapers, they do not carry weapons.

You’ve gotta admit that getting the first one into the combat zone only eleven months after deciding to go ahead with the program is a job well done. Despite this, follow-up planes are lagging. Instead of 13 deployed by August, the number is probably going to be only 6. They are being counted on to provide additional support during the troop build-up in Afghanistan while UAV construction struggles to keep up with demand.

The first seven planes were bought used, while planes 8 through 31 will be new builds with extended range.

Also see Stephen Trimble’s The US Air Force’s MC-12W goes to war


  1. Given that the Army has been flying RC-12 and other C-12 variant ISR aircraft for years now, this is hardly impressive.

  2. Hawk,

    But it’s the Air Force, and it’s a PROP PLANE!

    The fact that they’ve accepted such a “low tech” solution is kinda impressive in its own way, at least to me.

  3. They’re desperately trying to hang on to manned missions when they should be building and flying more drones.

  4. It is true that these planes should have been in action by now, but the blame lies with the civilian contractors who are supposed to be providing the parts to assemble the new equipment. I have no doubt there will be some bugs to work out (like every other new platform), but i have seen what it is capable of and believe the guys on the ground will be thankful it is there to watch their backs.

  5. There is a reason for choosing the King Air…it is an exceptional turboprop aircraft. Already in use as a spotter aircraft for aerial firefighting and as test aircraft for avionics manufacturers it was a natural pick for this program. It is a capable, tough, highly manueverable and reliable aircraft and fits the mission perfectly. The aircarft has been in continous production since the 70s and has been very popular with owners/operators. If you have ever flown in one you will quickly change your opinion that it is just another “prop-driven” plane. I think using an existing PROVEN airframe for this program was extrememly intelligent and shows how military procurement of COTS items can speed up delivery to the field. Well done in my opinion.

  6. The plane is getting into action on time. The military is jumping through hoops to fill a need they and the Congress should have planned for instead of the Commander in Chief announcing MISSION ACCOMPLISHED in Iraq and ignoring the hitory of warfare in Afghanistan. The technology can prevent combat deaths and even roadside bombs if used properly. And as Al Qaeda moves in the places like North Africa where the borders are much more porus than our own, the need is great. Hind Sight is 20 20…only…use the hindsight of history.

  7. Wonderful, I can now see why birds dont want to walk on the ground. Can you believe that? I have a 32c night raven and the aerial specs for my altimeter can also sub for the turbo sync. Well, maybe the USAF can stop with the politics and work with us, not agianst us!

  8. @HAWK – They don’t need more drones, these aircraft are a lot better since you can talk to the pilots and operators directly to cover your rear. I loved having these cover me vs. a drone this past tour to Afghanistan. We had a few missions where the dual ISR systems matched with human operators were way more effective than using a UAV. If we made contact with the enemy the pilot could actually guide combat support aircraft to support us instead of someone on the ground having to do it – this helps a lot! It doesn’t have the loiter time of a drone but offers much better coverage. I returned Feb. 2012.

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