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King Air 350 Grows Into ISR Mission

by Mike Hoffman on July 13, 2012

FARNBOROUGH, England — It’s tough to walk into the Hawker Beechcraft chalet here at the Farnborough International Airshow and not think about the first days of the U.S. Air Force’s Liberty Program when engineers gutted extravagant King Air 350s to install high tech spy sensors and ship them to Iraq per former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ immediate request. Stories of engineers ripping out wine refrigerators to make room for signals intelligence sensors still resonate.

Much like the military demand for turbo props mounted with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors, Hawker Beechcraft has grown over the past five years. The King Air 350s are now a regular on Afghanistan flightlines as ground commanders keep requesting low profile, manned aircraft for ISR missions.

It’s not only combat missions either. Federal agencies have seen the success the military has had and requested even more ISR turbo props for search and rescue missions and to combat pirates, drugs and illegal immigration.

“Looking only at the military market would be a narrow view,” said Jay Gibson, Hawker Beechcraft’s vice president for Special Missions. “This whole scene to include the commercial market is exploding.”

With that popularity, though, has come the increase in competition. However, Gibson is confident Hawker Beechcraft’s record will speak for itself as their planes have flown thousands of missions for the U.S. Air Force over Iraq and Afghanistan over the past three years.

One of the toughest parts of the ISR business is keeping up with the technology of the sensors, Gibson said. There is a constant demand for more amp power to run the sensors and sensor companies constantly want to change the location on the turbo props depending on the type and size of the sensor.

With the advance of technology, many of the sensors have shrunk meaning the turbo prop can sometimes carry more depending on the power requirements.

Gibson is not worried about the rise in dependence on unmanned aerial vehicles for ISR missions. He forsees the need for a mix of the manned and unmanned aircraft. Defense analysts have said air forces will have to revert back to manned aircraft in denied airspaces making Gibson’s King Air’s more valuable.

“Each have their role as each have their benefits and limitations,” Gibson said. “I’m confident manned ISR will always be there.”

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris July 13, 2012 at 8:42 am

I fly a KA200… absolute beautiful, brutish best of an aircraft. I LOVE the King Air!

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Musson July 13, 2012 at 9:04 am

Sky King and Penny go COIN.

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ghostwhowalksnz July 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm

better off with an armed turbo prop trainer type of plane

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Nicky July 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Why not, a King Air can be a perfect manned ISR on demand platform. On the Plus side, you can hire pilots who already know how to fly them.

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jamesb July 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Now I KNOW the Army has it's own….

I hope the Air Force doesn't dog rob the a/c……

I guess the RJ versions that the General's wanted are out of the question now, eh?

No 737 version's either?

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Guest July 14, 2012 at 5:42 pm

The good news about Kingair is that the Army has already got them, and that it is an aircraft that doesnt normally deploy to the warfight ( RC12 notwithstanding) so you get more utilization out of it

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jamesb July 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Progress!

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EW3 July 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm

"engineers ripping out wine refrigerators"

Who needs wine refrigerators. Everyone knows you drink Red wine flying ISR missions.

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Johnny Ranger July 13, 2012 at 7:56 pm

That is hilarious!

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Kole July 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Hawker-Beechcraft is now owned by a Chinese company. Don’t believe me? Read EAA’s latests e-mail article. One of the Headliner’s.

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ghostwhowalksnz July 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Thats Private Equity funds for you,

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Will July 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm

How will a King Air or similar aircraft be better than a drone in denied airspace? It would have to be so much better that the Air Force would be willing to risk the crew.

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Mike July 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Maybe they mean restricted (no unmanned aircraft) rather than hostile airspace.

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joe July 14, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Look to see these fine airframes in the boneyard soon. Unless the air force can kick open some more slots for afsoc birds or let centre spike operate them like in the bad old days of the queen hunter op.

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M&S December 6, 2013 at 8:55 am

>>
Gibson is not worried about the rise in dependence on unmanned aerial vehicles for ISR missions. He forsees the need for a mix of the manned and unmanned aircraft. Defense analysts have said air forces will have to revert back to manned aircraft in denied airspaces making Gibson’s King Air’s more valuable.
>>

Which means we are locked into paying for a manned community as very expensive rent seekers or accepting that, when a drone flies over our head during food riots when the US Dollar collapses, it may be piloted by people on a different continent who are absolutely unaccountable to any law of our lands.

Hmmmmm, decisions, decisions…

>>
“Each have their role as each have their benefits and limitations,” Gibson said. “I’m confident manned ISR will always be there.”
>>

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M&S December 6, 2013 at 8:56 am

Not really. With MEPs shrinking and/or going podded, the compareable cost per flight hour and absolute endurance of the UAVs are totally dominant and the only drivers which matter are the bandpipe for some of the offboard critical gear (SIGINT and WAPS especially) vs. the need to function in controlled airspace which systems like ABSAA and perhaps some version of EODAS could easily provide the UAV equivalency in.

King Air 350i
Flyaway cost: 6.12-7.5 million, depending on equipment fit.
Cost per flying hour: 1,200 dollars.

MQ-1
Flyaway: 3-4 million.
CPFH: 1,500 dollars.

MQ-9
Flyaway: 9 million
CPFH: 2,300 dollars.

The King Air will of course do 300 knots at 25,000ft which can get it between mission taskings quite quickly compared to a 110 knot MQ-1 but is only 30 knots faster than an MQ-9 while the former gives 30+hr endurance and the latter 20+ vs. the typical 6-8 that you can force people to endure (the Iraqi 350ER is certified to 12).

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M&S December 6, 2013 at 8:57 am

Though you wouldn't think it, looking at the beefy fuselage, useful payload is also very low on the King Air system, as it was designed around bulky but low density human passenger transport. This averages approximately 800lbs (or four adults and their baggage) for most flights and though the absolute load can be as high as 2,650lbs, it typically comes at the cost of fuel as endurance, especially hot and high as with Bagram and Lemonniere.

The MQ-9 offers 3,000lbs external and 1,000lbs internal before moving to the stiffer Guardian/Mariner wing and it doesn't mind the heat at all.

Where the UAVs just hammer manned systems is in hours per sortie vs. total fleet size on the ramp in theater to sustain requisite SENSECAPs counts. If you are need to generate 60 CAPs per day as we did in AfG and Iraq at one point and have to have 2.5 aircraft to cover a 24hr commitment, you are talking 150 platforms and 1.12 billion dollars for a KA350i vs. 90 UAVs and 360 million for the UAV, with further variance based on mission package availability.

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M&S December 6, 2013 at 8:58 am

The MQ-1 has been flown for as long as 42hrs in one mission but both it and the MQ-9 are routinely capable of 24hr mission endurance with standard fuel management techniques.

Couple this to lower purchase and competitive ownership costs and the only real edge the manned platform retains is fleet life because the drones are very fragile and unstable (not enough tail to compensate for drift, not enough mass to push through crosswinds = dangerous curvilinear approaches) in certain conditions at landing, they tend to suffer a lot of tail and tip scrapes.

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