King Air Spies Like an Eagle
Hawker Beechcraft (HBC) has brought a special-missions-equipped King Air 350ER to the Dubai Air Show to demonstrate the potential of melding this tried-and-true platform with the latest surveillance technologies for diverse tasks, including drug interdiction, search and rescue and electronic intelligence gathering.
The special-mission aircraft on static display here includes a belly-mounted radome for digital search radars and an electro-optic infrared lift used to extend a Star Safire/HD or MX-15 turret camera during the mission and retractable for post-mission transition flying. The quick-change interior can easily be reconfigured for medevac, troop transport, cargo or combi missions. All of these special-mission modifications are certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and available from the factory for qualified buyers.
The King Air has always been attractive for special-mission duty and more than 1,450 of them have been sold for these uses over the last four decades. However, in 2007 Hawker Beechcraft took the airplane’s capabilities to new levels when it certified the seven-hour, 20-minute endurance (typical mission with 45-minute reserves) 350ER. The aircraft gets its extra range from auxiliary fuel tanks in the aft of the engine nacelles and the added heft is supported by beefier main landing gear. A private aft lav and 355-cu-ft cabin let pilots and crews spy with dignity–in style and comfort.
For governments bad-guy watching on a budget, the 350ER special-mission airplane could be just the ticket. Prices vary based on equipment levels, but nicely tricked out with all the latest invasive and communications technology can be had for $10 million to $12 million. The base aircraft is priced at just over $7.7 million.
The U.S. airframer also offers its Hawker business jet family for conversion to special-mission roles, including maritime patrol and airfield calibration. Hawker Beechcraft also produces the T-6 turboprop single trainer aircraft, as well as the AT-6 light attack version.
Sean McGeough, HBC’s president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told AIN that security concerns sparked by the so-called Arab Spring political uprisings has stimulated new interest in special missions equipment. Governments in the region have been making inquiries about applications such as aerial surveillance, medical evacuation, pipeline patrol and border monitoring.