Hawker Beechcraft delivers first MC-12W to US Air Force

Washington DC
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Hawker Beechcraft has delivered the first new-build MC-12W Liberty aircraft to the US Air Force.

The aircraft has been transferred to an L-3 Communications facility in Waco, Texas for further modifications and mission system integration.

The USAF is buying a fleet of up to 37 MC-12W manned turboprops to relieve a heavily tasked fleet of manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft operating in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The idea of converting Beechcraft King Air 350ERs into surveillance aircraft for the USAF was conceived less than a year ago.

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 © USAF

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had been critical last year of what he called "foot-dragging" by the USAF on deploying new surveillance platforms. The USAF appeared to respond by launching the MC-12W acquisition programme, nicknamed Project Liberty.

So far, the USAF has acquired eight used King Airs and ordered 23 new-build King Air 350ERs from Hawker Beechcraft. Another six aircraft are currently unfunded, but could be supported under the fiscal year 2009 supplemental submitted to Congress in mid-April.

The MC-12W fleet is expected to become operational by the end of the year. The USAF aircraft will join a growing fleet of manned turboprops flown in Afghanistan and Iraq by other military services, such as the army's Constant Hawk and the US Marine Corps' Angel Fire platform.

All of the manned turboprops provide full-motion video coverage, and carry an on-board digital recorder that allows operators to replay scenes before and after an attack.