King Air 350 Grows Into ISR Mission

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.”

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • Chris

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

  • Musson

    Sky King and Penny go COIN.

  • Nicky

    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.

  • jamesb

    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?

    • Guest

      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

  • jamesb

    Progress!

  • EW3

    “engineers ripping out wine refrigerators”

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

  • Kole

    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.

  • Will

    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.

    • Mike

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

  • joe

    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.

  • M&S

    >>
    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.”
    >>

    • M&S

      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).