After eight consecutive years of active service, the 132d Operations Group’s RC-26 Condor reconnaissance flying program was deactivated following a “final flight” of the aircraft January 27, 2023, at the 132d Wing in Des Moines, Iowa. The RC-26 program, directed by Lt. Col. Caleb Ramsey, provided counter-narcotics and domestic natural disaster support for law enforcement and emergency management agencies at the county, state and federal level. The RC-26 flying program was activated in Des Moines, Iowa in 2015, following the conversion from F-16 fighter aircraft to Intelligence Targeting, Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Cyberspace Operations. The RC-26 was a key asset in supporting law enforcement agencies in executing counter-narcotics operations. Law enforcement agencies at the county, state and federal level utilized support from the 132d Operations Group in Iowa and across the nation.
“I can’t emphasize enough the dedication to the mission our team has had. All these guys have sacrificed time with family working late nights and early mornings to support the needs of law enforcement. It’s the definition of service before self,” said Lt. Col. Jon Harbart, RC-26 Condor crew member and former director.
“It’s been so fulfilling getting to serve in this mission and have an effect on my community and work with such great, professional people who love what they do. It’s rare for someone in the military to work with law enforcement and have a mission this intimate with them is pretty special. To be able to assist law enforcement in taking drug dealers and murders off the streets and keeping our community safe has been most impactful and fulfilling part of my career,” said Ramsey.
The RC-26 offered an aerial surveillance option for local and federal law enforcement agencies, allowing them to cut down on high-speed chases and more easily gather evidence on drug trafficking organizations. During the eight-year span of operations, the RC-26 flying flew over 4000 hours contributing the seizure of one billion dollars’ worth of narcotics and leading to over one thousand arrests. In addition to supporting counter-narcotics operations, the RC-26 crew supported emergency management agencies during natural disasters including forest fires on the west coast, flooding in the Midwest and hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The aircraft provided vital imagery of affected areas to emergency crews on the ground.
The RC-26 is a modified Fairchild Metro 23 tasked with counternarcotics, manned tactical ISR, disaster response, and civil support missions. U.S. Air Force selected the C-26 to fulfill a joint ANG and Army National Guard airlift requirement in 1988, subsequently modifying the airframes to the RC-26 configuration. In the fire-support role, aircraft sensors can detect fires at up to 80 miles and accurately map them from up to 3 miles away. An extensive communications suite allows communications from 29 to 960 MHz including provisions for plugged-in 800 MHz handheld radio and airphones. The aircraft is equipped with specialized digital cameras, IR video, and communications equipment to enable domestic and international anti-trafficking. The aircraft has a secondary role providing real-time video streaming to responders following hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters.