November 1, 2014:
In Thailand the air force has ordered an Italian Piaggio P.180 Avanti II business jet outfitted for photo reconnaissance. This 5.2 ton aircraft that has a payload of 9oo kg and that will largely consist of high resolution digital cameras and computerized stabilization and mission control hardware and software plus some additional fuel. This will allow the aircraft to stay in the air for up to five hours per sortie. Equipped for surveillance work the Piaggio P.180 can take highly detailed digital photos of large areas, which can then be scrutinized by analysts and special software to look for specific items (like rebel or Islamic terrorist camps in remote areas). The Piaggio P.180 can operate at up to 12,500 meters (41,000 feet) and cruise speed is 660 kilometers an hour. The Piaggio P.180 entered service in 1990 and 220 are in service or on order. Some 14 percent of those have been adapted to military use.
The Piaggio P.180 is just the latest twin engine commercial aircraft to be adapted to military uses. Many twin engine airliners or business jets have also been adapted. The oldest of these is the King Air 350, which is a 5.6 ton, twin engine turboprop aircraft that evolved from the first King Airs that showed up in the 1960s as a 5.3 ton aircraft that could carry 13 passengers. In the 1990s an improved model, the Super King Air, was introduced. As a military surveillance aircraft the Super King Air can stay in the air for up to eight hours per sortie. The Super King Air can carry over a ton of sensors, several times what a Predator UAV can haul. The Super King Air can fly at up to 11,000 meters (35,000 feet) and cruises at over 500 kilometers an hour. These military versions cost about $20 million each fully equipped. Over 6,000 King Airs have been built and over ten percent have been adapted to military uses. Twin engine jets are sometimes preferred if greater speed is an asset, as it is for photo-reconnaissance.