The US Air Force's six-month-old fleet of MC-12W Libertys will grow to 29 aircraft under a new contract announced on 19 October by Hawker Beechcraft.

The $45 million for six aircraft brings Project Liberty within eight aircraft of the original plan to field 37 Hawker Beechraft King Air 350s and 350ERs, which are rapidly modified by L-3 Communications to serve as intelligence-gathering aircraft.

The USAF has announced that Project Liberty completed its first combat sortie by an MC-12W in Iraq in June.

"Since being deployed in several theatres of operation, the aircraft have demonstrated extremely high-mission capability and logged hundreds of hours on station," says Jim Maslowski, president of US and international government business for Hawker Beechcraft.

MC-12 Liberty 
 © US Air Force

The MC-12W is equipped with the L-3 MX-15 turreted camera to supply full motion video. The sensor suite also includes an unidentified signals intelligence system. The sensors are operated by two on-board crew members, each of whom are provided a special console for that purpose.

US Air Force officials launched Project Liberty in May 2008, immediately after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates publicly criticized the service for moving too slowly to respond to urgent demands for more airborne intelligence-collectors of all types.

The payload suite aboard the MC-12 is similar to the intelligence systems installed aboard the US Army's MQ-1C Sky Warrior, which are expected to make their maiden deployment later this year, albeit with a lesser-capable synthetic aperture radar payload.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news