Don’t be fooled by the MC-12W’s humble commuter plane façade. This little turboprop is one of the military’s most valuable spies. The MC-12W Liberty maintains a next-generation sensor suite, giving this military aircraft an incredible ability to cut through the fog of war and provide real-time battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to ground troops in combat.
The unarmed and slow MC-12W is also one of the rare fixed-wing aircraft flown directly by the US Army, and just as vital as any gunship. Originally an Air Force project when first introduced in 2009, these Liberty birds were soon snatched up by the Army’s Special Operations Command and deployed throughout Afghanistan and Iraq. From 2009 to 2014, the small MC-12W fleet flew 400,000 hours worth of combat missions.
Operations: All totaled, Liberty planes aided in killing or capturing more than 8,000 insurgents and terrorists, plus discovered more than 650 large weapons caches. They also helped divert hundreds of convoys away from improvised explosive devices and provided lifesaving overwatch for thousands of coalition troops.
The MC-12 is also a crucial component of the Joint Task Force ODIN, which combines UAVs and manned surveillance aircraft to better identify and track high value targets. In particular, senior ISIS militants in Iraq.
Yes, the MC-12W is a militarized version of the Hawker Beechcraft Super King Air 350ER. Instead of tourists though, these aircraft pack a complete data collection, processing, analysis and dissemination system. Liberty ISR planes are equipped with a variety of classified and ultra-advanced radar and SIGNIT sensors, as well as infrared or full color hi-definition video cameras. Almost the same intelligence gathering capabilities of a Predator drone and J-STAR surveillance aircraft, but rolled into one small and relatively cheap airframe.
Just as valuable, the MC-12 is armed with a high-strength infrared pointer, allowing them to “mark” an individual person or object for ground troops to engage or avoid. All of which is, of course, invisible to any enemy not wearing night vision goggles. Most aircraft also have an onboard laser designator to directly guide-in precision strike munitions.
While usually employed to improve the accuracy of Hellfire missiles fired from UAV’s or Apache gunships, this state of the art laser designator can fully control a wide-variety of laser-guided missiles launched from manned “fast movers,” and even the latest generation of 70mm rockets. Despite their usual slow speed and low altitude operations, these aircraft aren’t defenseless. Each is equipped with a full range of radar warning receivers, chaff/flare countermeasures and even active infrared lasers to blind incoming missiles.
The MC-12 also has eight hours of flight endurance. Which allows them to stay on station long enough to gather a complete and thorough picture of the battlespace. With their powerful but efficient turboprop engines, Liberty aircraft can fly for hours at near stall speed and ultra-low altitudes, or kick up the pace to 300 knots while cruising at 35,000 feet. With a range of 2,400 nautical miles, there are few hotspots too far away for the MC-12 to dominate. Few other propeller driven aircraft in the entire world, military or civilian, can provide such flexible flight performance.
See MC-12W Liberty Specifications
|Primary Function: Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance|
|Contractor: L-3 Communications|
|Power Plant: Pratt & Whitney PT6A-60A|
|Wingspan: 57 feet 11 inches ( 17.65 meters)|
|Length: 46 feet 8 inches (14.22 meters)|
|Height: 14 feet 4 inches (4.37 meters)|
|Weight: 12,500 pounds empty (5,669 kilograms)|
|Maximum Takeoff Weight: 16,500 pounds|
|Fuel Capacity: 5,192 pounds (2,355 kilograms)|
|Speed: 312 knots|
|Range: approximately 2,400 nautical miles|
|Ceiling: 35,000 feet (10,668 meters)|
|Crew: Two pilots and two sensor operators|
|Initial Operating Capability: June 2009|
|Unit Cost: $17 million (aircraft and all communications equipment modifications)|
|Inventory: Active Force, 0; Reserve, 0; ANG, 13|