What Are Those Things?

Air Force Special Operations Command is beginning to move several units to its new western base at Cannon AFB, N.M., and this summer plans to send in a new and low-profile airframe—the PC-12. According to Col. Tim Leahy, commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon, the aircraft came out of the emphasis placed on special operations forces in the last Quadrennial Defense Review. Dubbed the “Non-Standard Aircraft” and called NSA, the small airlifter is a variant of the Pilatus PC-12. The aircraft is designed to provide intratheater support to special ops forces. AFSOC chose the PC-12 specifically to operate from short and unimproved runway surfaces and even dirt strips. One reason for assigning them to Cannon is to take advantage of the nearby Melrose training range, where AFSOC is interested in practicing assault landings on one of the dirt strips, according to range chief Johnny Rogers. “The rougher the better,” Rogers said during a tour of the range. Another variant, the heavily modified U-28A, has been operated by the 319th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., since August 2005. [Item updated 01/10/08 based on clarification from AFSOC.]