If you attended the Flying Aviation Expo in Palm Springs, California, you may have noticed a Pilatus PC-12 NG on display. If you didn’t take a closer look, you may not have noticed that this was not any Pilatus — it had been modified for special missions. Called the PC-12 NG Spectre, the airplane was reconfigured by Tempus Jets to include an Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensor, which can be dropped down from the tail section of the large single-engine turboprop.
Included with the system is an operator’s console that includes two display monitors, a digital video recorder, a communications audio panel, and controls to deploy and retract the sensor. In addition to the special missions equipment, the airplane can accommodate up to seven people in the back.
The Pilatus Spectre has been used in a multitude of operations including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, border surveillance, drug enforcement, disaster relief and more. Another highly specialized mission where the Spectre has shined is in the efforts to find and recover downed airplanes and their pilots from past military missions around the world. One recent mission was deployed to Papua New Guinea, where dense rainforest and jungle foliage makes finding such airplanes a great challenge. The U.S. military estimates that more than 250 World War II airplanes still remain unaccounted for in the region.
What made the Pilatus such a terrific platform for the mission was its ability to fly more than 1,700 nm, cruising at speeds up to 280 knots to get from the United States to Papua New Guinea, while being able to loiter at around 115 knots for as long as eight hours to allow for the search mission to proceed. Using a Multi-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (MB-SAR), a scientist from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory collected ground data from the skies and mapped around 30,000 square kilometers in 29 days. The data could then be analyzed to determine the location of any downed airplanes.
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