When it comes to special mission aircraft, Textron Aviation has a deep lineup of airplanes suited to the task, ranging from the single-engine piston Cessna 172 to its most sophisticated Citation jets. But its most popular mission-oriented aircraft come in two turboprop types, the Caravan single-engine and the twin-engine King Air series. Both product lines are prime examples of dual-purposing, with a large following in the civil market for everything from owner-flown transport to commercial charter and business aviation flight departments. But these aircraft, when equipped for specific non-commercial or military operations, show their true mettle.
To serve the special mission market, Textron Aviation has fielded a dedicated team to help customers select exactly the right product, according to TJ Whitfield, director special missions. The team consists of engineers, supply chain experts, program management, technical solutions, operations and other specialists. “We’re able to meet with customers and adapt and get them a solution quickly for their mission profile,” he said.
Textron Aviation brought two special mission aircraft here to its Paris Air Show static display (A4), a company-owned 208B Grand Caravan EX and a French customs King Air 350ER. Alongside the Caravan, which is powered by the 867-shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140, is a static demonstrator wing equipped with hardpoint provisions to illustrate the various products that can be attached, including weapons and ISR equipment. Textron Aviation is showing the wing equipped with dual Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and dual Textron Systems triple Fury glide munitions, both installed on rails. A Textron G-Claw glide munition launcher is installed in the cabin, illustrating its capability for launching outside the airplane through the open rollup door.
The hardpoint is not yet certified to accommodate extra fuel tanks, but is being shown as a mockup to illustrate future capabilities. This system could be developed internally by Textron Aviation or may be offered by a third-party. This Caravan is also equipped with a demonstrator ISR module inside the cabin, by Churchill Navigators, as well as a Spectrum Aeromed stretcher and life-support system.
The hardpoint wing is a modification that the customer must choose before the wing is built and is not available as a retrofit, Whitfield explained. The modified wings are a total of 30 pounds more than the stock wings (15 pounds per side). Each of the four hardpoints—two are located outboard of each strut attachment—can accommodate a payload of up to 525 pounds. Third parties are welcome to develop products for mounting on the hardpoints, he added.
For the light attack configuration, Textron Aviation works with a variety of ISR and weapons-integration partners that offer targeting and weapons-control systems and full-motion video datalink capability.
The Grand Caravan EX’s 340-cu-ft cabin offers plenty of flexibility, with seating configurations available for up to 14 occupants. Search-and-rescue (SAR) and ISR equipment is easily mounted in roll-on, roll-off style on the floor’s seat tracks.
SAR operations are enhanced by the Garmin G1000 avionics suite, which offers the option of a full set of customizable search patterns that can be flown by the autopilot. The Garmin displays can also accept video input. Among other avionics options are weather radar and high-frequency radio as well as military radios. A TKS ice-protection system is available for flight into known icing conditions.
The large cargo door on the aft left fuselage accommodates up to four standard pallets, and many operators are flying their Caravans with dual passenger-cargo configurations, according to Whitfield. The optional belly cargo pod is also a popular choice. “It’s very versatile,” he said. The aft baggage compartment in the cabin measures 31.5 cu ft and can carry up to 320 pounds, while the cargo pod’s maximum cargo weight is 1,090 pounds and has a volume of 111.5 cu ft.
For aerial survey work, the Grand Caravan can be fitted with up to two 22-by-22-inch ports with floor support. The ports are easily spacious enough for medium-format cameras. They can accommodate large-format camera systems, although that is a tight fit, he said.
For medical transport, the Grand Caravan can carry up to four gurneys for casualty evacuation or two patients on air-ambulance stretchers offered by a variety of manufacturers.
Other available special mission configurations include parachute operations, training and float operations. With the Wipline 8750 amphibious floats, the Grand Caravan EX’s maximum cruise speed drops to 164 from 185 knots and maximum range to 813 from 912 nm. Useful load with floats is 3,162 pounds, down 405 pounds from the non-float-equipped Caravan’s 3,567 pounds.
With a full load of fuel—2,246 pounds—the Grand Caravan can still carry a payload of 1,286 pounds. For an ISR or SAR mission, the Caravan can fly as slowly as 90 ktas at 2,000 feet while burning 290 pph. At higher altitudes, fuel consumption drops, and at 14,000 feet, the engine burns 240 pph while propelling the Caravan at 103 ktas. At these fuel consumption levels, loiter times of more than six hours at low altitude and almost eight hours at high altitude are possible, even allowing for a generous reserve.
The Grand Caravan’s flexibility shows in how little runway it needs (or water, typically 2,000 feet for a water takeoff). “The great thing about the Caravan,” said Robert Varriano, technical solutions manager, “is because of its multiple uses, most things are optional. So if you’re cargo hauling and you don’t need to have a lot of equipment on board, you can make it as light as possible so you can maximize your cargo. But at the same time, if you need to be in inclement weather or doing things that [require] some more information, you can load up the airplane with all sorts of equipment.”
King Air 350ER
The French customs King Air 350ER on the Textron Aviation static display features a Beechcraft-built radome, which can accommodate an antenna up to 40 inches in diameter, as well as an EO/IR lift that fits up to a 17-inch gimbal, and ISR consoles inside the cabin. The radome is capable of handling X- and Ku-band frequencies.
This King Air is not the latest model with the touchscreen Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion flight deck—it has Pro Line 21 avionics—but all new King Air models since last year are equipped with the new touchscreen displays. The new avionics system include three 14-inch touchscreen displays in landscape format, and synthetic vision is standard.
As with the Caravan, special mission mods are added in the King Air assembly line flow. Some of the other options include more powerful PT6A-67A engines for better hot/high performance, 400-amp starter-generators, bubble window kits and drop-hatches.
The drop-hatches are pressure plugs installed in the floor, used for dropping a life raft, flares and dye and smoke markers. The hatch measures 20 inches in diameter, but includes a 4.5-inch opening for smaller items such as dye markers. The hatch is designed to seal tightly, but at the typical low altitudes flown during maritime patrol, usually below 500 feet, there is no need to worry about pressurization when opening the hatch, Varriano explained. The drop hatch area includes a safety harness for the operator.
The bubble window kit adds two protruding windows that replace the aft-most windows, in line with the observation seats. One of these seats doubles as the lavatory, so there is also a curtain to provide some privacy. The observation seats still face forward, he said, and the seats are lined up so that it is comfortable to look out the bubble windows.