On 18 February 2012, a U-28A aircraft crashed near Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, killing all 4 members of its crew. The crash was said to have not been the result of enemy fire. The aircraft was said to have been conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 4 members of the crew were from the 319th Special Operations Squadron, 34th Special Operations Squadron, and 25th Intelligence Squadron.
The U-28A utility aircraft provides intra-theater support for special operations forces. The U-28A is the Air Force variant of the Pilatus PC-12 and was selected for its versatile performance characteristics and ability to operate from short and unimproved runway surfaces. The U-28A is also certified to land on dirt and grass strips. The aircraft is equipped with weather radar and a suite of advanced communications and navigation gear. This single-engine utility aircraft has a crew of two, but can be flown by one pilot.
Pilatus Aircraft Ltd has been building single-engine aircraft since 1939. The production facility is located in Stans, Switzerland. The company has earned its place as the largest single-engine turboprop manufacturer in the world. In both the civilian and military markets, Pilatus enjoys a reputation for utilizing the most modern design techniques, precision engineering and cutting-edge manufacturing processes to produce its high performance aircraft. As of late 2005 the Pilatus PC-12 fleet consisted of over 500 airplanes worldwide.
The latest and largest member of the Pilatus family is the PC-12. Integrating a single turboprop engine into an aerodynamically advanced airframe, the Pilatus PC-12 combines excellent economy, reliability and versatility with the inherent safety of this type of aircraft. It offers multiple configurations, ranging from Standard nine passenger commuter seating, Executive six to eight passenger seating, Cargo, Combi passenger and cargo, dedicated or quick change Air Ambulance and Multi-Mission Surveillance.
The PWC PT6A-67B engine, which is installed in Pilatus PC-12 and PC-12/45 airplanes, consists of a gas generator section and a power turbine section. The gas generator section produces the power to drive the power turbine section, which drives the propeller through the reduction gearbox (RGB). The gas generator section also drives the accessory gearbox (AGB), which drives the gearbox components, such as the starter-generator, hydraulic pump, oil pump, and oil scavenge pumps.
The turboprop U-28A can operate from shorter runways than a C-130, and can land on dirt and grass strips. It can carry a payload of up to nearly 3,000 pounds and be flown by one or two pilots. Due to it's efficient design and the use of a single engine, the U-28A's direct operating cost is about a third less than a comparable multi-engine aircraft and nearly half that of the nearest comparable jet. Each PC-12 costs $20 million.
During 1998 to 2003, the Aviation Division recognized the ever increasing role aviation support was in obtaining DEA enforcement objectives. The Division implemented long-term strategic plans in order to provide more effective and efficient service. A component of these plans was an effort to modernize and standardize the fleet. Older, maintenance-intensive aircraft were replaced with new Cessna 206 surveillance aircraft, Pilatus PC-12 cargo aircraft, and Eurocopter A-Star helicopters.
In August 2004, ICE launched a new initiative to maximize security along the U.S.-Canada border. The Bellingham Air and Marine Branch (AMB) was the first of five planned facilities to augment DHS Northern border security capabilities with air and marine law enforcement, surveillance, and airspace security authorities. At full capacity, the Bellingham AMB consisted of 69 federal law enforcement officers, pilots, aircrew, and mission support personnel from the Office of Air and Marine Operations (AMO), a division of ICE. Branch assets include one medium lift helicopter, one light enforcement helicopter, one multi-role enforcement aircraft (Pilatus PC-12), one SAFE boat, and one utility boat.
A new squadron was created to fly single-engine U-28As in support of Special Forces such as the Army's Green Berets and Navy's SEALs. The 319th Special Operations Squadron, with six U-28As and about 45 airmen to fly and maintain the planes, is stationed at Hurlburt AFB in Florida, which is the headquarters of the Air Force Special Operations Command. There are no other PC-12s in the Air Force inventory.
The 319th Special Operations Squadron was reactivated during a ceremony in Freedom Hangar. The 319th SOS, assigned to the 16th Special Operations Wing, provides intra-theater support for Special Operations Forces. The squadron was officially reactivated on 01 October 2005 and began flying operations six days later. The addition of the 319th SOS to the 16th SOW and Air Force Special Operations Command provided a new intra-theater support capability for Special Operations Forces, and will help Air Commandos deliver their specialized airpower any time, any place.
The 319th SOS grew in the following three months, and the Airmen were ready for their first combat mission in January 2006. The heritage of the 319th SOS dates back to the beginning of Air Commando history. The squadron gets its roots from the 319th Troop Carrier Squadron, which operated in the Burma theater during World War II.
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