MC-12W Liberty intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft

The MC-12W Liberty aircraft is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft of the United States Air Force (USAF) acquired for Project Liberty. Project Liberty includes Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Enduring Iraqi Freedom (OIF). OEF is the official name designated by the US government for its war in Afghanistan, while OIF is the official name for its war in Iraq.

An asset owned by the Joint Forces Air Component Commander, the aircraft’s key mission is to provide ISR services to the ground forces.

A medium-altitude manned vehicle, the MC-12W is based on the Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350 and King Air 350ER models, which are variants of the C-12 series. The aircraft is an augmentation of the two King Air models to include ISR capabilities.

The MC-12W has been procured as it can support all the Air Force’s irregular warfare mission needs.

The first combat mission of the MC-12W aircraft was undertaken on 10 June 2009. The aircraft was assigned to the airmen of the 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron Detachment 1 and the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing in Camp Liberty, Iraq. The first combat sortie took off from Joint Base Balad, Iraq at 2.30pm for a four-hour mission. At about 6.20pm local time the four member crew completed the sortie.

MC-12W programme

In April 2008, the US Secretary of Defense established a task force to identify and recommend solutions for increased ISR in the US Central Command’s (USCENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR) in Project Liberty.

The task force recommended a solution that augmented the C-12 aircraft to suit ISR requirements. The C-12 aircraft are unmanned systems.

“The MC-12W Liberty aircraft is the ISR aircraft of the USAF.”

The USAF selected a total of 37 C-12 aircraft to be augmented based on the orders of the Secretary of Defense. Out of the 37 aircraft, eight are King Air 350s and the remaining 29 are King Air 350ERs.

These King Air 350s and 350ERs were modified for the USAF with equipment and technologies according to military requirement.

The augmented aircraft’s title was designated as MC-12W, ‘M’ being prefixed to denote that the aircraft is a multirole version of the C-12 series of the Department of Defence.

MC-12W Liberty intelligence gathering

The MC-12W is designed to intensify data collection operations through intelligence-collection capabilities operating in-theatre, allowing real-time full-motion video and signals intelligence for battlefield decisions of military troop leaders.

A fully operational MC-12W would comprise sensors, a ground exploitation cell, line-of-sight and SATCOM data links, as well as a robust voice communications suite. It would have manpower sufficient for 24hour deployed operations.

The first eight aircraft would have an MX-15i system with an infra-red pointer, which would allow the aircraft to signal an object or building to a soldier wearing special goggles on the ground. Further upgrades would provide the aircraft with a state-of-the-art laser designator to target a position with formidable precision.

The overall length and height of the MC-12W are 46ft 8in and 14ft 4in respectively. It has a wingspan of 57ft 11in and covers a wing area of 310ft². The maximum take-off weight of the aircraft is 15,000lb (augmented 350 version) and 16,500lb (augmented 350ER version).

The MC-12W can carry two pilots and two sensor operators.


MC12-W augmented from the basic version King Air 350 offers six hours of flight time, while the ER variant MC-12W would provide more than eight hours of flight time. The variant has flexibility to run low and slow or cruise at 300kt and 35,000ft. No other aircraft in its class could match its performance.

The standard aircraft has a range of 1,500nm and the extended version has a range of 2,400nm.


Rockwell Collins maintains the avionics system of the 37 MC-12Ws under a contract won in April 2011. Rockwell supplied its Pro Line 21TM Integrated Display System.


The MC-12W (standard 350 version) is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT6A-60A engines each rated at 1,050shp. It is equipped with Hartzell’s four-bladed propellers, the FWA4516 on the left and the FWA4513 on the right.

Each wing tank has the capacity to hold 1,438l of fuel. The inboard auxiliary fuel tanks add the total usable fuel capacity to 2,040l.

Orders and deliveries

On 19 November 2008, HBC was awarded a contract by the USAF for the delivery of 23 special mission King Air 350ER turboprops. The contract was worth $171m. In March 2009, the USAF received the first delivery of its MC-12W aircraft for use in special missions for ISR platform.

“The MC-12W aircraft is an augmentation of two King Air models to include ISR capabilities.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that a total of 37 MC-12Ws were acquired between 2008 and 2010, including the previously ordered 23 aircraft.

The delivery of the 37 aircraft was completed in two phases. Phase 1 included the delivery of seven King Air 350 aircraft and phase 2 included the delivery of 30 King Air 350ER aircraft.

Mission training

On 29 April 2009, the first MC-12W aircraft meant for training arrived at Key Field, Meridian, Mississippi at the Mississippi Air National Guard’s 186th Air Refueling Wing. Under an agreement between the USAF and the Air Refueling Wing the aircraft was brought for a temporary qualification training detachment.

The active duty airmen would be trained in Reno using the Scathe Review Camera system, similar to that to be used on the MC-12W aircraft. This camera system includes electro-optical and infrared sensors mounted on the aircraft’s wings providing real time visible and thermal imagery.

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