Draco is the name and pawning is the game.
After years of bureaucratic considerations, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has decided to officially baptize its U-28A aircraft as Draco. In Latin, the word “draco” means “dragon” and it’s also a constellation in the far northern sky.
“From my time in the community (2010-2012), we were split between a couple of schools of thought on the official naming of the U-28,” explained Col. Robert Masaitis, the 492nd Special Operations Training Group commander and U-28A pilot, in an interview with DVIDS. “Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, the AFSOC commander at the time, had told us we ought to name the aircraft. Between the two, then later, three squadron commanders, we could agree that ‘Draco’ was probably the obvious choice. I’m glad to see we’re bringing this initiative to fruition after all this time, as the U-28 has become so much more than the single-engine, non-descript ‘utility’ aircraft we brought into the service over a decade ago.”
A light turboprop aircraft, the U-28A is a versatile platform that can perform a number of roles in support of special operations or conventional units. One of its primary functions is to conduct long-range intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. The U-28A fleet has been doing excellent work in Africa the past few years. Another role of the U-28A is the covert insertion, extraction, or resupply of SOF elements in denied environments. Although a small aircraft, the U-28A has the ability to ferry up to 10 fully-kitted commandos or 3,000 pounds of gear. Its small size, furthermore, makes it ideal for operations in makeshift airstrips.
“This is fantastic recognition of an aircraft and community,” said Brig. Gen. William Holt, AFSOC special assistant to the commander and a former Draco pilot. “Draco has changed the very fabric of our AFSOC DNA and will continue to be our premier ISR platform for years to come.”
Alongside the U-28A, AFSOC operates a number of small aircraft in ISR or SOF-support roles. The C-146A Wolfhound, for instance, is a turboprop aircraft that is capable of carrying up to 30 operators or 6,000 pounds of cargo – a heavier version of the Draco but without the ISR capabilities. There’s also the C-145A Skytruck, a twin-engine Short Take Off and Landing aircraft. The C-145A focuses more on ISR operations. Finally, there’s the venerable MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
With respect to the capabilities and combat utility of the Draco, Lt. Col. Chad Anthony, commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron, said to DVIDS, “Over the battlefields of the Global War on Terror, Draco has come to mean unparalleled special operations intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, especially to the men and women on the ground in the line of fire.”
The U-28A is the military version of the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. It has a crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, combat systems officer, and tactical systems officer. AFSOC currently fields 28 U-28As.