After more than 13 years in service, the U-28A intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft officially received approval in May for the naming convention of “Draco”.
Draco is the Latin term for dragon. Most aircraft commonly have a name after their numerical designation, such as CV-22 Osprey.
Col. Robert Masaitis, 492nd Special Operations Training Group commander, Draco pilot and former commander of the 34th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, commented on the process of naming the aircraft.
“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,” said Masaitis. “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 ISR support to humanitarian operations, search and rescue, conventional and special operations missions.
“This is fantastic recognition of an aircraft and community,” said Brig. Gen. William Holt, AFSOC special assistant to the commander. “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 the 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,” said Anthony. “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.”
Maj. Caitlin Reilly, a U-28A Draco pilot and AFSOC director of operations executive officer, commented on the importance of the name approval and the Draco community.
“All of us in the U-28 community today are humbled by the vision and expertise of the U-28A plankholders (the original founders of the program),” said Reilly. “They created something that had never been done before, and it has evolved into an asset that is now one of the ‘minimum force requirements’ of our nation’s elite SOF teams on their ‘no-fail’ missions.”
The Draco is an integral part of AFSOC’s light tactical fixed wing fleet.
Col. Andrew Jett, 492nd Special Operations Wing commander, former 34th SOS commander and Draco pilot, commented on the significance of the name.
“Our partners may not have known the personal names of the crewmembers, but they always know Draco,” said Jett. “There is a tremendous amount of recognition and respect when a crewmember identifies him or herself as being a member of Draco. I’m thrilled about the exceptional reputation Draco has built over the 13 plus years of the program and it’s now codified as the permanent aircraft name, and is something every member of Draco, past and present, can take pride in.”
Reilly further commented on the pride she and fellow Draco aviators take in the name.
The best thing about the U-28 community, and AFSOC as a whole, is that it is a competency-based organization, she said.
All of the U-28 aircrew are equally proud of the Draco name approval.
Every Air Commando in the U-28A community dedicates themselves to the demanding task of upholding the level of expertise and respect that the name Draco commands, said Reilly. It’s extremely challenging, and we’re all immensely proud of what this name represents.