The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)’s U-28A intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft officially received approval in May for the naming convention of “Draco” (Latin term for dragon) after more than 13 years in service.
Col. Robert Masaitis, 492nd Special Operations Training Group commander, Draco pilot and former commander of the 34th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, commented on the process of naming the aircraft.
“From my time in the community (2010-2012), we were split between a couple of schools of thought on the official naming of the U-28,” said Masaitis. “Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, the AFSOC commander at the time, had told us we ought to name the aircraft. Between the two, then later three squadron commanders, we could agree that ‘Draco’ was probably the obvious choice. I’m glad to see we’re bringing this initiative to fruition after all this time, as the U-28 has become so much more than the single-engine, non-descript ‘utility’ aircraft we brought into the service over a decade ago.”
The U-28A is a modified, single-engine Pilatus PC-12 aircraft and is part of the AFSOC’s manned, airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance fleet. Operational squadrons include the 319th, 34th and 318th Special Operations Squadrons, and the 5th and 19th SOS conduct the airframe’s formal training.
AFSOC fielded the U-28A fleet through the purchase of commercially available aircraft and subsequent military modification to include tactical communications capabilities, aircraft survivability equipment, electro-optical sensors, and advanced navigation systems. The advanced radio-communications suite is capable of establishing U.S. Department of Defense and NATO data-links, delivering full-motion video, and transmitting secure voice communications. The U-28A benefits from outstanding reliability and performance, and the aircraft is capable of operating from short runways and semi-prepared surfaces.
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 Draco reached a historic milestone on June 22, 2018, when the AFSOC aircraft reached the 500,000 flying hours mark.
Crew: 2 Pilots, 1 Combat Systems Officer, 1 Tactical Systems Officer
Builder: Pilatus Aircraft Ltd
Power Plant: Pratt-Whitney PT6A-67B
Thrust: 1,200 horse power
Wingspan: 53 feet 3 inches (16.23 meters)
Length: 47 feet 3 inches (14.4 meters)
Height: 14 feet (4.25 meters)
Speed: 220 knots
Range: 1,500 nautical miles
Ceiling: 30,000 feet
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 10,935 lbs
Deployment Date: 2006
Unit Cost: $16.5 million
Inventory: Active duty, 28; Reserve/ANG, 0