These Unassuming PT6A Powered Planes Have Been Key Players in America’s War on Terror

For years, the U.S. Air Force’s 318th Special Operations Squadron’s small PC-12 and C-145A aircraft supported secretive operations across five continents.

Capt. Pat Taylor, Maj. Michael Black and Capt. Kris Williams, 919th Special Operations Wing pilots, walk toward an aircraft on the Duke Field, Fla., flightline. The reserve pilots began their career as enlisted loadmasters with the 919th SOW and were later selected to become an officer and pilot with the special operations unit. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sam King)

A key element that makes the U.S. military so potent is its ability to start rushing troops anywhere in the world on short notice. Massive cargo aircraft, such as the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III, depositing troops and equipment into or near war zones is a common image of American military deployments. But as the United States has expanded its often shadowy global fight against terrorism, a secretive fleet of small transport planes has become a vital tool in those operations.

Between 2011 and 2013, aircraft from the U.S. Air Force’s 318th Special Operations Squadron flew more than 3,000 hours across five continents. The sorties included everything from basic cargo deliveries to air dropping supplies onto remote combat outposts and even psychological warfare.

“Planning, preparing, and executing various missions while providing special operations commanders with agile, intra-theater mobility support defined their mission statement, while performing from austere, semi-prepared, and blacked-out airfields with minimal support,” the annual history for that year of the 27th Special Operations Wing, which controls the 318th, explained.

The War Zone obtained this report and other records related to this unique unit’s operations through the Freedom of Information Act. As of 2012, the 318th was one of two units performing the so-called “non-standard aviation” and “light special operations forces (SOF) mobility” missions. The other was the 524th Special Operations Squadron, also part of the 27th.

One of the 318th’s PC-12s.

In this role, the squadron had two aircraft, the single engine Pilatus PC-12 and the twin engine C-145A Combat Coyote. The latter aircraft is the Air Force’s version of the twin engine PZL M28 Skytruck. Both aircraft use the Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop. The 524th initially flew the twin engine Bombardier Q-200, before transitioning to the similar C-146A Wolfhound, which The War Zone already explored in an earlier piece.

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