After more than 13 years in service, the U-28A Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft officially received approval in May for the naming convention of “Draco” (Draco is the Latin term for dragon). The mission of the Draco is to provide manned fixed-wing tactical airborne ISR support to humanitarian operations, search and rescue, conventional and special operations missions. The U-28A is a modified, single-engine Pilatus PC-12 that operates worldwide. The initial block of U-28 aircraft were procured and modified for use in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The aircraft is crewed by 3, pilot, co-pilot and Combat System Officer (CSO).
The U-28A fleet evolved from commercially available aircraft that were purchased and then modified with communications gear, aircraft survivability equipment, electro-optical sensors, and advanced navigation systems. The advanced radio-communications suite is capable of establishing DoD/NATO data-links, full-motion video, data, and voice communications. One of the U-28A roles is the insertion, extraction and resupply of Special Operations Forces (SOF). The single-engine U-28A is small enough to land on small grass or dirt airstrips. It can carry 10 passengers or 3,000lbs of cargo and can operate from the type of short, unimproved airstrip that a larger plane, such as the C-130 Hercules, would be too big and heavy for.
Special Operations Command mission requirements generated a need for small numbers of mission specific aircraft which were procured rapidly to address specific mission needs. The Non-Standard Aircraft (NSAv) fleet is a general program term and encompasses several light and medium aircraft performing utility missions for SOCOM. Overall the NSAv mobility fleet untethers special operations forces from robust infrastructures, extended timelines and allows freedom of movement. The U-28A Draco is an integral part of AFSOC’s Non-standard light tactical fixed wing aircraft fleet, and is operated by the 319th and 34th Special Operations Squadrons, training is conducted by the 5th and 19th SOS; all squadrons are located at Hurlburt Field, Fla.