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