US Air Force Pilatus U-28A Draco 08-0581 assigned to the 34th Special Operations Squadron takes off from Hurlburt Field, Florida, on October 18, 2018. The unofficial Draco name has now been formally adopted for the type by AFSOC. USAF/Airman 1st Class Joel Miller
After more than 13 years in service, US Air Force Special Operations Command’s (AFSOC’s) Pilatus U-28A intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft has officially received approval to be named Draco. The nickname has long been used for the aircraft, but on June 19 AFSOC announced that during May the name, which is the Latin word for dragon, had been approved officially for the type.
Col Robert Masaitis, 492nd Special Operations Training Group commander, Draco pilot and former commander of the 34th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, said: “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. 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.”
The mission of the Draco is to provide manned fixed-wing tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to humanitarian operations, search and rescue, conventional and special operations missions. Brig Gen William Holt, AFSOC special assistant to the commander, said: “Draco has changed the very fabric of our AFSOC DNA and will continue to be our premier ISR platform for years to come.”
The Draco reached a historic milestone on June 22, 2018, when AFSOC aircraft reached the 500,000 flying hours mark. Lt Col Chad Anthony, 319th Special Operations Squadron commander, commented on the capabilities of the aircraft: “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. Aircrew and special operators who have flown and worked with the Pilatus U-28A have known it as Draco since its first combat deployment in June 2006.”
Units flying the Draco include the 27th Special Operations Wing (SOW)/318th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) ‘Black Birds’ at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico; 919th SOW/5th SOS at Duke Field, Florida; 1st SOW/34th SOS and 319th SOS at Hurlburt Field, Florida; and 57th Wing/14th Weapons Squadron ‘Air Commandos,’ also at Hurlburt Field.