Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sighted: Project Liberty Aircraft

I went out to the base yesterday to do the bi-weekly commissary run (and play with ATMs, in my spare time) and noticed a significant amount of activity on the flight line… much more so than in weeks and months past. For the better part of a year now there have been only one or two C-130s on the ramp, rarely more. But yesterday I counted five C-130s on the ramp and one in the pattern, shooting touch ‘n’ goes. One of the cute lil buggers you see below was shooting touch ‘n’ goes, as well. About which:

More than Just An Aircraft: The Air Force plans to deploy an expeditionary air support operations group of about 100 airmen to Southwest Asia later this year to support its new fleet of MC-12W intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance aircraft. These airmen, operating out of sites throughout the theater, will analyze, disseminate, and process the full-motion imagery and signals intelligence data collected by the aircraft's sensors. The airmen will help to pass on this information as quickly as possible to the ground troops at the tactical level who need it most. "Heretofore, intelligence was largely centered at high levels," Brig. Gen. Blair E. Hansen, director of ISR capabilities on the Air Staff, told reporters in the Pentagon Jan. 23. He continued: "Now we have the ability to flatten it. We've made it immediately consumable … and this system is one of those systems pumping information into that picture." The first of the MC-12Ws is expected in Southwest Asia in April. The aircraft themselves will be equipped with such tools as the remote operational video enhanced receiver to pass live video streams directly to the airmen on the ground who call in air strikes. (For more, read Project Liberty Heads Downrange)

One normally sees King Airs hanging around municipal airports, the executive sections of our major hub airports, and only rarely at USAF bases. While the Air Force has long flown military equivalents of executive aircraft for VIPs and such, I find it interesting that the service is taking the King Air and fitting it out as an ISR platform… all in the space of about a year from concept to initial operational capability (IOC). From that “Project Liberty Heads Downrange” link above:

The genesis for LPA came last April when the Office of the Secretary of Defense task force sought a quick means to address the seemingly insatiable demand for ISR capability in Southwest Asia. Virtually all MQ-1s and MQ-9s deploy to the fight as soon as they arrive from the factory, yet the demand keeps growing.

“That curve is as steep as it can get right now,” said Hansen of the Air Force’s UAV efforts in theater. Currently there are 33 combat air patrols of MQ-1 and MQ-9s flying in Southwest Asia.

After weighing concepts, Defense Secretary Robert Gates last July signed an order for the Air Force to proceed with its proscribed (sic) solution: procurement of 37 specially configured C-12 twin-engine aircraft based on the Beechcraft King Air 350. Thus was born “Project Liberty,” named after the World War II effort to quickly press commercial ships into the fight in Europe.

“The concept was, ‘What can we do in an additive fashion that would get extra capability?” said Hansen. The need was simple: FMV and Sigint in a multi-sensor package. And, getting it to the war zone soon.

Now is that cool, or what? There’s precious little in the media about the MC-12 and I have NO idea if there will be a permanent MC-12W presence at Cannon in the future. But it was great seeing that lil guy buzzing around the airplane patch yesterday.

Update, 05/04/2009: Correction to this post published here, along with a photo of an actual MC-12W. The C-12 I saw zooming around in the pattern at Cannon AFB the day I wrote this post was NOT an MC-12... it was a garden-variety C-12 operated by AF Special Operations Command. My apologies.

(Links and photo from the Air Force Association's Daily Report, which is linked in my sidebar.)


  1. Hey Buck you didn't happen to notice the tail lettering on those 130's did you. If they had LR on them they are from my neck of the woods. The trash haulers of the world! They can go anywhere and do amazing stuff. They played a vital roll in both of the desert wars. I just can't seem to get that humming sound out of my head after 10 years of being stationed with them. Was the picture one of the c-12's you were talking about?

  2. Cannon's 130s ain't trash-haulers, Dale. They're gunships, Compass Call, Combat Talon, and various and sundry other SpecOps variants. The ramp is too far from the perimeter road to see the fin-flashes, but I'm nearly certain they'll have "CC" on their tails at some point in time, if they don't already...

    As for the MC-12W... I'm pretty sure it was that. I caught a brief glimpse of the belly as it was going around, and there were various non-standard blisters and such on it.

  3. While I was vacuuming last week, I felt an odd vibration. Then the windows started to rattle. Knowing that my vacuum has never had that kind of power, I ran outside to watch two army helicopters flying over quite low. I waved – just like a school girl. I love aircraft of any sort.

  4. Buck,
    The MC-12 is a nice add-0n to the already long history of the King Air being used in combat. The Army fly's an RC-12 that I think was used as the baseline for this Air Force version. Also, I have been in a Navy variant that was used at the Naval Air Test Center in Pax River (Maryland) to try out different new EO/IR sensors. In the one case the MX-20 FLIR/TV system was mounted and flown around and it was later bought in large numbers and mounted on Navy P-3 aircraft.

    Cannon AFB will be the future home to all sorts of "odd" aircraft that are used by the Special Ops world including specialy modified H-53's and PC-12 Pilatus aircraft.

    All this while my favorite survalance aircraft is quitely drummed out of service. Today marks the end of the S-3 Viking service to the US Navy as the last Squadron was de-Established yesterday and today the functinal Wing will close down. I worked on that aircraft from 1975 to just last year (2008) making deployments on two aircraft carriers. The end of an era.

    BT: Jimmy T sends.

  5. Lou sez: I waved – just like a school girl. I love aircraft of any sort.

    Secret: I wave, too. When I'm reasonably sure it will be seen.

    Jimmy: The passing of the War Hoover is indeed a sad thing, but sadder yet for guys like you who have all that time invested in the aircraft. I know the subject has been beat on a lot over at Lex's place, yet still I wonder at the Navy's "wisdom" in making mini-tankers out of F/A-18s... aside from other missions that will go begging or be marginally addressed now that the S-3 is gone.

    re: Cannon. I've already seen a PC-12 or two on the ramp at Cannon, but I think they were just visiting firemen. We're (we? I said "we?") also gonna get Ospreys, as well... and I think those will be REALLY cool to see! But I DO miss the Lawn Darts...

  6. I assume that the C-12 with Osan markings and no MC-12 payload was not what you actually saw??

  7. Good assumption, Anon. From the last line in this post: "Links and photo from the Air Force Association's Daily Report, which is linked in my sidebar."

  8. Buck,
    From what I understand you will see the CV/MV-22 there at Cannon (not sure which version is the one the Marines are getting). They are neat to watch but when you actually get a chance to see one up close you will be surprised. Well, maybe not but I was upset after my first walk-On-and-Around. They have had many of them at PAX River for quite a while now. What got me was that so much of it is Carbon-Fiber. The only armor that I actually saw, was on the seats the two Drivers sit in, which I guess is good but, there are a lot of vital parts inside that beast that are kind of exposed.

    More importantly, speaking as the Father of a Marine what will be sitting inside one of them on their way into hostile country, they are way too vulnerable to ground fire. And they are mounting guns on them Ad-Hoc. The Navy is only recently started a program to 'officially' install guns on them to give them some kind of self protection. When I was standing inside the think I was struck by how big inside it really was but also by how 'flimsy' that carbon-fiber really is and it is used almost everywhere.

    I sure hope they can fit 2 or 3 GAU-8 guns on that thing. Speaking as both a parent and a war monger that believes in the simple theory of war: Kill as much of the enemy as you possible can.

    BT: Jimmy T sends.

    P.S. I saw three different configurations of C-12's on Friday that were being flown by the Customs Air Services (part of ICE) down at NAS Jacksonville and they all had some kind of EO/IR capability. One even had a real elongated nose. Love to have gotten the penny-tour of them but, they are kind of particular who goes near their aircraft. Pitty.

  9. Jimmy: Thanks for the first-person narrative on the CV-22. I had no idea there was that much carbon fiber in those things! And I understand your concerns completely. I'm thinking our (that would be USAF) special operators feel much the same way.

    I doubt I'll be able to see a CV-22 up close and personal. My CAFB flight line pass PCS'ed a couple of years ago, unfortunately. ;-)

    And that's pretty interesting about the ICE C-12s!

  10. Back in the 80s when I was stationed at NAS Moffett Field near Sunnyvale, CA, there were a bunch of what I think were King Airs with Army markings that I think were signal intelligence gathers. No idea of course, but it seems like the Air Force has been down this path before.

    Phil, retired Navy.

  11. Hey Phil... Thanks for dropping by. I know the AF has used lots of different platforms for ISR work in the past. Just as an example... a friend of mine flew on EC-47s out of Da Nang during Vietnam. And there were a lot of other different ISR aircraft out there. Those guys don't get much press, for obvious reasons.

  12. Jeff In Wichita19 August, 2009 09:00

    I work for Hawker Beechcraft on the King Air final line in Wichita Ks. Its good to see something we make here in DooDah doing something important for our Country. We are all very proud of the King Air Liberty ships.

  13. Hey, Jeff! Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for doing what you do. You have EVERY reason to be proud of your work.


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