The US Air Force has always used business jets to support its operations. Throughout its 75 years, the agency has leveraged the unique performance profiles and offerings of these otherwise lavish platforms for a dynamic range of assignments. Even today, the Air Force continues to turn to commercial OEMs for help. As we commemorate the Air Force’s Diamond Jubilee, here’s a look at five business jets the agency has used to support its work:
1. Gulfstream G550: EC-37B Compass Call
You might do a double take when you see the Air Force’s next-generation electronic warfare jet, the EC-37B Compass Call. It is designed to replace the EC-130H, a variant of the Lockheed C-130 that the Air Force has used since 1982. In 2017, the Air Force announced that it would partner with L3 Technologies to transform an aircraft from Gulfstream G550 business in its new electronic attack aircraft. Like its predecessor, it would be equipped with systems capable of disrupting adversary command systems and doing things like counter-information operations.
However, using the G550 allows the Air Force to take advantage of faster, more economical, and higher altitude performance profiles compared to outgoing aircraft. The new platform will enter service in 2023 and will use the Gulfstream Airborne Early Warning Aircraft (CAEW) radar system.
There will be 10 EC-37B aircraft to replace the fleet of 14 EC-130H jets, and they will be delivered to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
2. Bombardier Global Express 6000: E-11 BACN
Last week, Bombardier and its defense division announced delivery of the first Global 6000 aircraft in special mission configuration to the US Air Force. The company said the program is part of the Air Force Airborne Battlefield Communication Node (BACN) program at Hanscom Air Force Base (AFB) in Massachusetts. Bombardier announced in June 2021 that the Air Force had ordered six Global 6000 business jets worth $465 million in this special configuration, and this delivery was the first.
Bombardier President and CEO Eric Martel said last week that the defense sector was a “key pillar” for his company’s future, as airframes are well suited to house and operate complex mission equipment. The first mission-configured aircraft allowed the Air Force to reduce communication challenges associated with incompatible systems, adverse terrain, and distance. Lt. Col. Eric Inkenbrandt said in a statement that “BACN increases interoperability, resulting in forces that perform faster, more reliably and less risk to the warfighter. The delivery of 21-9045 is the critical first step in advancing the mission this program provides.
The Global 6000, dubbed “Wi-Fi in the Sky,” will serve as a high-altitude communications gateway, relaying or linking voice and data between air and surface forces and easily overcoming traditional obstacles such as mountains, rough terrain or distance. . As part of the Air Force fleet, they will be more properly labeled as the E-11A fleet.
3. Gulfstream V & G550: C-37A and C-37B
When transporting VIP government personnel, the Air Force relied on a series of Gulfstream V and Gulfstream G550 aircraft converted to C-37A and C-37B, respectively. The Air Force has used the C-37A since 1998 and the C-37B since 2006 for special airlift missions for senior government and Department of Defense officials. The entire active fleet consists of 13 models configured to carry up to 12 people. According to the Air Force, each consists of a modern flight management system with global satellite GPS and comes in two variants.
The C-37A and C-37B can operate between flight levels 410 and 510. They are equipped with improved weather radar, autopilot, state-of-the-art pilot heads-up display and safety that improve vision. They also have commercial and military communications capabilities that allow them to switch between secure and unsecured voice and data. They are based at various Air Force stations including Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
4. Beechcraft Super King Air and 1900 series: C-12J Huron
In terms of utility, the Air Force sometimes uses a variant – the C-12J Huron – of the Beechcraft/Raytheon 1900C regional airliner developed from the Beechcraft Super King Air for transport and more difficult missions. In the business world where customers use King Airs to travel to more regional airports, the Air Force utilizes Huron’s multi-mission capabilities, including support for light cargo movements, humanitarian assistance, medical evacuation missions, pilot training, etc. A pilot can operate the aircraft from either station depending on the Air Force configuration.
The C-12J can carry 19 passengers or up to 3,500 pounds. The passenger door usually has an access door mounted on the port side. According to the Air Force, its C-12J fleet recently completed an extensive avionics upgrade and modernization program, which added three multi-function displays. The C-12J entered Air Force service in 1992, and today four are in use: three at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan and one at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. .
5. Learjet 35A: C-21
The Learjet’s rich history also includes its use by the Air Force for passenger and cargo air transport. Designated the C-21 platform by the Air Force, the defense arm also uses the Lear 35A to transport one stretcher (or stretcher) or five ambulatory patients for aeromedical evacuation operations. With nacelle-mounted turbofans on the sides of the rear fuselage, the iconic swept-back wings and single-slot flaps, the workhorse of a business jet launched commercially in 1973 and figures prominently in the missions of the ‘Air Force.
Deliveries to the Air Force began in 1984. Through a series of agency consolidation efforts, only 19 active C-21A aircraft are now stationed between Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Air Force said it invested $38 million to upgrade all avionics in the fleet to glass cockpits and meet 2020 global airspace requirements.