Air Transportation: Good Things Come In Small Packages


June 6, 2010: The war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the growth of peacekeeping activity, has created a demand for smaller air transports. The most popular of these is the militarized version of the Beechcraft 350 King Air. These cost about $7 million. Militarized versions can cost up to three times as much. The King Air 350 is a 5.6 ton, twin engine aircraft that can carry two tons of cargo or passengers. It is 13.3 meters/44 feet long and has a wingspan of 16.6 meters/54.5 feet. Hundreds of King Airs have been purchased by all branches of the American military. The most recent models include the U.S. Navy/Marine UC-12W transports it ordered. These replace twelve older UC-12s (that were based on the slightly smaller King Air 200).

The booming demand for the King Air, led to the Canadian DHC-6 400 Twin Otter going back into production. This is a 5.6 ton, twin engine, propeller driven aircraft, with a 21 meter/65 foot wingspan, and is 16.8 meters/52 feet long. The Twin Otter can carry up to 20 passengers, and can stay in the air about six hours per sortie. The King Air was last produced in 1988, but the new 400 model costs about 30 percent less than the current King Air 350. Thus far, fifty of the DHC-6 400 are on order, and that number is expected to grow with demand for these lightweight transports. The King Air still had an edge in the market place, with thousands of them in service (mostly as civilian aircraft), and many models (the 350 is the largest of the line.) Only 845 Twin Otters were built between 1965 and 1988.

The U.S. Air Force has its own version of the King Air, called the MC-12. This aircraft is a "manned UAV replacement". After being tried out in Iraq last year, most of the 37 in service, or on order, are headed for Afghanistan. The MC-12 will provide the same service as a UAV (full motion video) in addition to electronic monitoring (radio, cell phone, etc.). The air force is converting some existing King Air 350s, as well as buying new ones, to obtain up to fifty MC-12s for duty as, in effect, a Predator UAV replacement. This will be a big help, because UAVs cannot be manufactured fast enough to supply battlefield needs, so the manned MC-12s helps fill the gap.

The MC-12 can stay in the air for up to eight hours per sortie. Not quite what the Predator can do (about twice the time per sortie), but good enough to help fill the demand. The MC-12 has advantages over UAVs. It can carry over a ton of sensors, several times what a Predator can haul. The MC-12 can fly higher (35,000 feet) and is faster (over 500 kilometers an hour, versus 215 for the Predator.) The MC-12s cost about $20 million each, more than twice what a Predator goes for. The MC-12s crew consists of two pilots and two equipment operators.




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