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Air Force Special Ops U-28 Crashes in Africa

by John Reed on February 21, 2012

Some sad news from the weekend: Four Air Commandos died over the weekend when their U-28 special mission single engine turboprop went down in Djibouti Saturday.

The planes based on the Pilatus PC-12, often operating in civilian livery, are flown by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) on missions to remote airstrips around the world where the pretense of a large C-130 in USAF markings won’t be too welcome by the locals. In addition to hauling special operators on clandestine missions to small airfields, the planes can provide over-watch and reconnaissance for SOF teams using a suite of drop down cameras, infrared sensors and other spy gear. I went for a ride from England to Belgium a couple of years ago in a PC-12 equipped with FLIR cameras a couple of years ago and we were reading names painted on ships steaming in the English channel from dozens of miles away using the infrared camera.

The U-28s often fly to small airstrips from a country’s bigger “hub” airport that will have a larger spec ops detachment nearby that is supported by a big AFSOC Dash-8 twin turboprop, again sometimes in civilian colors. (An AFSOC Dash-8 famously ran out of gas and made an emergency landing in the Malian desert a couple of years ago.) Think of it as a hub and spoke system for special ops missions.

The Air Force doesn’t yet know what caused the crash on Saturday. All the service will say is that the airmen died while returning from a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Keep in mind that this could mean they were operating anywhere from the jungles and plains of central Africa, the Sahara Desert, Somalia or Yemen.

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