Top ten special mission aircraft

13 September 2019 (Last Updated January 29th, 2020 12:41)

Multiple special mission equipment options make Lockheed Martin’s C-130J-SOF the best special mission aircraft available today. Airforce-technology lists the top ten special mission aircraft in the world, based on performance parameters such as payload capacity and range.

Top ten special mission aircraft
The C-130J-SOF aircraft was unveiled during the Paris Air Show held in June 2017. Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin Corporation.

C-130J-SOF

Top ten special mission aircraft
The C-130J-SOF aircraft was unveiled during the Paris Air Show held in June 2017. Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin Corporation.

The C-130J-SOF special mission aircraft is being offered by Lockheed Martin to cater to the requirements of the international special operations forces (SOF). The aircraft was unveiled during the Paris Air Show held in June 2017.

The multi-mission aircraft can be configured to perform armed reconnaissance, precision strike, aerial refuelling, airdrop resupply, personnel recovery, forward area refuelling point operations, infiltration and exfiltration, humanitarian aid, and rescue missions.

The aircraft has a payload capacity of 18,023kg, which allows for the carriage of electro-optical (EO)/infrared (IR) and radar systems, weapon systems, defensive aids, and refuelling systems. Powered by four Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 engines, the C-130J-SOF has a maximum cruise speed of 660km/h and a range of 3,815km.

Gulfstream G650ER

Top ten special mission aircraft
The medical evacuation configuration of the G650ER aircraft. Image courtesy of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation.

The G650ER special mission aircraft is based on the G650 business jet developed by Gulfstream Aerospace. It is suitable for transport, reconnaissance, airborne early warning, maritime patrol, signals intelligence, and international atmospheric research missions.

Gulfstream also offers special mission configurations of the G600, G500, and G280 business jets.

The aircraft’s spacious cabin allows for multiple configurations and capabilities while its multi-purpose interiors ensure the rapid integration of special-mission equipment, cargo or passenger-cargo payloads weighing up to 2,948kg.

The G650ER special mission aircraft is powered by two Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, which provide a maximum cruise speed of 1,142km/h. The maximum range of the aircraft is 13,890km.

Gulfstream G550

Top ten special mission aircraft
A G550 special mission aircraft of the Republic of Singapore Air Force. Image courtesy of Owen65.

The G550 special mission aircraft is a derivative of the G550 business jet manufactured by Gulfstream Aerospace. The G550 special mission fleet is in service with more than ten military operators.

The G550 is configured with mission-specific equipment to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), command and control, signal intelligence, electronic warfare, and medical evacuation missions.

The power-plant of the G550 special mission aircraft integrates two Rolls-Royce BR710 engines, which each develop a thrust of 15,385lb. The aircraft has a payload capacity of 2,812kg and a maximum range of 12,501km.

Challenger Multi-Role Aircraft

Top ten special mission aircraft
The Challenger multi-role aircraft is based on the Challenger 650 business jet. Image courtesy of Bombardier.

The Challenger multi-role aircraft is a special mission variant of the Challenger 650 business jet developed by Bombardier Aviation. It was unveiled during the 2016 Singapore Airshow.

The aircraft integrates mission-specific systems for conducting search-and-rescue, maritime patrol, medical evacuation, VIP transportation, and other specific duties such as weather monitoring.

The Challenger has a payload capacity of 2,200kg and can accommodate operator and observer stations, EO/IR sensors, a mission system and a medical suite. Powered by a pair of GE CF34-3B engines, the aircraft can reach a maximum distance of 7,408km.

King Air 350ER

The King Air 350ER special mission variant is equipped with two PT-6A-60A engines. Image courtesy of Textron Aviation Inc.

The King Air 350ER special mission variants are based on the King Air 350i aircraft being offered by Beechcraft, a part of Textron Aviation. The high-performance aircraft are designed to meet the challenging needs of special missions.

The aircraft can be configured for pilot and crew training, military liaison, air ambulance, surveillance, maritime patrol, passenger and cargo transport, flight inspection, and other time-dependent missions.

The King Air 350ER aircraft is powered by two PT-6A-60A engines. It has a maximum payload capacity of 1,608kg. The maximum speed and range of the aircraft are 561km/h and 4,986km, respectively.

King Air 250

Top ten special mission aircraft
The King Air 250 special mission variant has a payload capacity of 1,706kg. Image courtesy of aeroprints.com.

The King Air 250 special mission variants are in service with multiple military and government customers. The aircraft is widely deployed by significant players in the flight inspection industry.

The aircraft can be configured with mission-specific equipment to perform training, VIP transport, air ambulance, surveillance, maritime patrol, cargo transport, flight inspection, and high-capacity/airline operations.

Powered by a pair of 850hp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A engines, the aircraft offers a maximum speed of 574km/h and a range of 3,185km. The payload capacity of the King Air 250 is 1,706kg.

Guardian 400

Top ten special mission aircraft
Guardian 400 special mission configuration is based on the Series 400 Twin Otter aircraft. Image courtesy of Viking Air Ltd.

The Guardian 400 is a special mission configuration of the Series 400 Twin Otter aircraft being offered by Viking Air. It was unveiled for the first time during the 2019 Paris Air Show held in June 2019.

The aircraft can carry EO/IR sensors, radar system, fixed camera systems, civil aircraft missile protection system and single/dual workstations, single and double seats, a stretcher, and front and rear baggage compartments.

The Guardian 400 platform can perform medium-range patrol, search-and-rescue, transport, drug enforcement, critical infrastructure support, and medical evacuation missions. It has a payload capacity of 1,683kg and can reach a distance of 2,408km.

PC-12 Spectre

Top ten special mission aircraft
PC-12 NG Spectre is a special mission version of the PC-12 NG passenger and cargo transport aircraft.

The PC-12 NG Spectre is a special mission variant of the PC-12 NG offered by Pilatus Aircraft. It is intended to serve the special mission requirements of both military and law enforcement agencies.

The passenger transport configuration of the aircraft can be reconfigured to a full cargo or combination layout. It can be installed with EO/IR sensor lift and operator console to perform ISR or SAR missions. The aircraft also supports medical evacuation, air ambulance, and airdrop and jump operations.

The PC-12 NG Spectre is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67P turboprop engine driving a full-reversing five-blade Hartzell propeller. The payload capacity of the aircraft is 1,209kg while its maximum range is 3,085km.

Grand Caravan EX Special Mission Aircraft

Top ten special mission aircraft
The Grand Caravan EX special mission demonstrator was launched during the Paris Airshow 2015. Image courtesy of Textron Aviation Inc.

The Grand Caravan EX special mission variant is based on the Grand Caravan EX turboprop utility/transport aircraft developed by Cessna Aircraft. Featuring a hardpoint wing structure, the aircraft received certification in mid-2016.

It offers a spacious and easily reconfigurable cabin, as well as hardpoint provisions, which enable to carry a maximum payload of 1,520kg. The aircraft is suitable for multiple missions, including flight training, VIP transport, passenger/cargo transport, and humanitarian aid.

The power-plant of the Grand Caravan EX integrates a PT6A-140 engine coupled with a four-blade aluminium, constant speed, and full feathering propeller. The aircraft has a maximum cruise speed of 361km/h and a range of 1,785km.

Britten-Norman Defender

The Defender multi-role aircraft has a maximum range of 1,863km. Image courtesy of Jerry Gunner.

Defender is a multi-role aircraft developed by Britten-Norman to support military intelligence, counter-terrorism, surveillance, reconnaissance, maritime patrol, medical evacuation, law enforcement, and homeland security missions.

The weaponised configuration of the aircraft features underwing hardpoints to carry ordnance and equipment, as well as resupply pods for battlefield support. It can transport the carriage of a maximum payload of 724kg.

Powered by two Rolls Royce 250 B17F engines, the Defender has a maximum cruise speed of 326km/h and can attain a maximum range of 1,863km.