Air Force Special Ops U-28 Crashes in Africa

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.

  • Anonymous

    Single engine prop plane crashes? That’s a shocker!

    • Prop planes are lighter and safer than jets. Most of them can actually glide unlike most jets. Prop plane point is beyond moot…

      • Mastro

        Maybe the civilian model with a couple of parachutists- but the way the military likes to load up – I doubt they have a great glide ratio.

    • tiger

      Not every plane needs to be a B-36 with “6 turning & 4 burning” fly.

    • Anonymous

      The turboprops on these particular aircraft are some of the most reliable engines ever built. It’s highly unlikely that it was a powerplant issue.

      • passingby

        what about cocaine or heroine? (or a fight about cocaine/heroine)?

        • crackedlenses

          Uh, context?….

        • MCQknight

          Dude, do you even personally know anyone in the military?

  • Lt_Kitty

    Sad news indeed to read four more heroes have died. I hope their families will be okay over the next couple of years.

    • max leer

      heroes, schmeroes… these “people” are paid mercenaries… by my TAX dollars!!!

      • passingby

        good point.

        it’s not an exaggeration to say that the majority (say, over 90%) of US military operations abroad are blatant war crimes, often committed along with mafia family members known as the NATO. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are some of the most current examples. Covert sabotage and subversive operations are currently under way in Syria and Iran.

        • Ryan

          Do you even care about defense technology or are you just here to *****?

          • passingby

            Of course I do. But that doesn’t mean I must support war crimes or war criminals by remaining silent.

            The US and NATO have committed war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bolivia, Columbia, Grenada, …. (the list is long). You want to pretend that nothing happened???? Does “morality” mean anything to you?

          • crackedlenses

            Show me one military that hasn’t committed a war crime at one point or another and I’ll sign up for their military. I don’t know about you, but we actually have a pretty good record. Not saying we haven’t blown it and killed civilians or that kind of stuff, but as a general rule we are the good guys.

            As for our wars being war crimes, maybe we ought to wait until Pearl Harbor II, then start attacking. Oh wait, we did: it’s called 9/11….

      • Jimmy

        God bless the families, memorials are not the place to discuss the war crimes, have a little tact,

        But now that you bring it up:

        Did you have a better idea on how to keep your freedoms?
        I love “people” that are quick to cast judgement on our troops, have not a clue as to what goes on in the field, and just sit their in their comfy computer chairs and make off the cuff accusations because they saw some propaganda film.

        This ain’t Hollywood Leer … how much have you paid for our, heck your own, freedom?

        How many other armies would use spend billions to use smart weapons to avoid injuring the children of the men that try to kill ours? let me check the record on 911 .. did they take precautions to avoid civilian casualties… oh yeah, … not so much! Go ahead Google recent bombing on civilian targets, then Google smart bomb and start calculating who the “bad guy” is here.

        If you had to choose one nation to rule the world .. who would you choose?
        … please move there! I CHOOSE THE UNITED STATES!

        Thanks to all our service men!

      • Page Elson
  • chaos0xomega

    Shame, hopefully it isn’t an issue that will repeat itself in the future.

  • John Moore

    “in USAF markings won’t be too welcome by the locals”


    • Dylan

      What don’t you understand about it? A giant C-130 covered in USAF markings are much more noticeable to locals.

    • tiger

      Never heard “Yankee go home before?” Folks been shouting it for a century.

    • blight

      To requote the original:

      “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.”

      Why is it a pretense for a C-130 to wear USAF markings? It is a pretense if the C-130 is pretending to be something else.

      Either way, the USAF isn’t welcome in all corners of the globe, and a PC-12 is less obtrusive. However, one wonders if this blurs the lines when it comes to clandestine activity and overt military activity…

      • tchump



        “Pretence” is obviously a typo.

  • Will

    Because the AF goes all sorts of places where the local government is friendly but the local population is hostile.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “….all sorts of places where the local government is friendly but the local population is hostile”

      Or vice versa :-)

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

      • Mastro

        Not so much- Most Iranians love/like the US- but try landing a SOC plane in Tehran.

    • Da_Bunny

      Because the drones are sure to follow?

  • -dp

    Isn’t the U-28 usually blacked ( out or is that the civilian version depicted above?

    • blight_

      The hills remind me of California, but it could be anywhere with a remotely Mediterranean climate…

      Edit: It’s an air force photo apparently. Trying to figure out where it was taken…

  • Nath

    A couple of years ago…

  • Lance

    My condolences to the crew and passengers. Wounder what happened?

    • max leer

      passengers?… this isn’t US Airways!!!

      • Ryan

        What’s your problem man? Four Air Force personnel died in the line of duty, end of story. Show a little respect for their sacrifice.

        It’s one thing to debate why they are there, but quite another to call them mercenaries.

        • passingby

          Just because they died in a crash doesn’t make it a sacrifice. It might be. But if they were in the process of committing a war crime, like many US soldiers were/are/have been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, then it’s not sacrifice, but a well-deserved price to pay for their crimes.

          • Ryan

            You guys need to find a new website to bash the military. Pass by and keep on going!

          • passingby

            I’m not bashing, just stating the obvious.

          • Michelle

            It was a sacrifice how dare you say it was not, that could of been your son or your husband or your father. Every member on that plane had families before you go bashing them think about how you’d feel if someone said that about your family member. The four soldiers families do read these and I happen to be one of those family members; that was my Fiance up there and he was a wonderful man!

      • blight_

        If you are flying the aircraft, you are a pilot/copilot. If you are operating instrumentation, you are crew If you are none of the above, you are passengers.

  • Stephen Russell

    Shot down or sabotage to crash?
    Insider Mole around base or Unit?

    • blight_

      It’s a little paranoid to suggest that every death is somehow an enemy-combatant related death. It isn’t impossible that this incident was sabotage related, but aircraft come down of their own accord. Accidents happen even here in CONUS, where sabotage is even less likely.

      The only certainty is that a box of American flags (American made, or Chinese made?) has just been opened, and that someone is folding them into neat triangles for delivery to heartbroken families.

      • Dog tags are made locally so a noaaintl database or something isn’t created. You can buy dog tags from sites like what is cited. All you need to know is his information.LAST NAMEFIRST NAME MIDDLE INITIALSSN (XXX-XX-XXXX)BLOOD TYPE (ie O POS)RELIGION (ie ROMAN CATHOLIC)

  • blight_

    After a weekend crash killed four Hurlburt Field airmen in Africa, the base community is focused on helping family, friends and fellow airmen grieve.

    A memorial service is being planned in the coming days for Capt. Ryan Hall, 30, Capt. Nicholas Whitlock, 29, 1st Lt. Justin Wilkens, 26, and Senior Airman Julian Scholten, 26.

    The bodies of the men were treated with military honors when they arrived early Tuesday at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

    “Memorial services help our team at Hurlburt and the families work their way through the grieving process,” said Hurlburt Field Col. Jim Slife, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing. “It’s the beginning of closure in dealing with your own grief.”

    The U-28A aircraft the airmen were aboard crashed Saturday near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

  • Gibby

    I deployed and worked with Ryan and Nick and instructed Justin when he first entered U-28 training. This is a sad event and they will be greatly missed. My heart goes out to all four’s family. These brave young men paid the ultimate sacrifice and it could of been any one of us who deploy.

    • Michelle

      Thank you; it’s nice to see one person not bashing them. It’s a shame reading some of these comments that was my family and friends up there.

  • aceejohson

    Thanks Anonymous,
    This is what I was looking for exaclty latestnew technology

  • Mark

    RIP. You will not be forgotten.

  • Charlie

    If the U-28a is based on a PC-12, it is a single engine turbo-prop aircraft.

  • Nick V

    Reminds me of the MC12

  • Jim

    If anybody is interested, we have a website up (still under construction – will hopefully have more info on it soon) that has a link to donate to a memorial fund for the fallen. You can find it at

    • jrexilius

      forgive me for my jaded mindset, but the site looks a little shaky. I would take down the paypal link until you maybe get some content up and some way for people to validate where the $ is going. maybe a .mil email address and a phone or DSN?

  • jrexilius

    RIP brothers. Your sacrifice will be remembered.

  • rick

    Praying for the families and the AF community with a heart of gratitude for their sacrifice.

  • JRL

    Seven Marines died as the result of a helicopter collision last night.


  • Dfens

    A Beechcraft King Air has 2 engines and is made in the US. Obviously they wouldn’t want to use anything like that for this kind of mission.

  • Jim37F

    Reminds me of when I saw an AFSOC plane do a somersault while landing on a dirt runway outside our VSP. Thank God no one was hurt in that accident.

    RIP to the 4 Airmen who weren’t so lucky :(

  • Spike 12 OZONE

    RIP, Happy Hunting to the four who are sorely missed. I wonder what is wrong with a SHERPA or even an old DeHavilland Otter or Beaver for that matter? All three are much better small planes…Even the Ugly Duck Grumman is better AND has nose cannon And will land on water or on the hardball AND has TWO engines with the capability of flying on one. The U28 reminds me of a weird looking Mooney or a large fancy Stearman with an enclosed cabin…The old Golden Knight’s plane from the museum would be better than that U28, I never ever heard of it giving any trouble!

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