They have been known to land on rocky “goat fields.”
They can haul a bomb robot and move a fully-equipped SWAT team.
And best of all, they’re free.
The Department of Public Safety’s two virtually new Skytruck aircraft caught everyone’s eye when they touched down in June at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
DPS Aviation Supervisor Andy Dobis said the planes landed on the south runway and had to taxi past terminals and other aircraft to get to the DPS hangar on the north side of the airport.
With a wide wingspan sitting atop a sturdy, compact fuselage – and with dual propellers and dual rudders – the PZL M-28 Skytruck isn’t sleek or flashy. But the sight of the two planes left baggage handlers gaping while others who work the terminals and hangars pointed and rubbernecked.
“They’re definitely unique,” Dobis said.
He said the planes are the functional aviation equivalent of a heavy duty pickup truck, made for rough landings and carrying heavy cargo.
The best part, DPS officials said, is the planes came free through a federal government program that transfers excess military equipment to police agencies.
Terry Miyauchi, DPS aviation administrator, said the planes, which will take to the air next month after pilots are trained, are also brand new.
Planes available through the program usually are aged or not air-worthy or not certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“They’re estimated, depending on what source you’re looking at, at $10 million to $14 million in a brand new condition,” Miyauchi said.
The U.S. Air Force began using that model in 2009 and is now phasing them out.
The acquisition of the aircraft comes at a time when the state consolidated its aviation fleet and is trying to get rid of two older DPS planes and one belonging to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Miyauchi said acquiring the two planes was not related to selling the others.
The two older DPS planes, a King Air E90 and a Cessna 210, are decades old and it costs considerably more to maintain aged aircraft than newer ones. They are designed to carry passengers, not equipment.
The U.S. Air Force has used Skytrucks for their special operations units in Africa and Afghanistan. They are designed to carry small groups of people, heavy loads or both. The plane seats 16 passengers and the seats can be quickly removed or stowed to make room for cargo.
Dobis said the Skytrucks can land on an 800-foot (slightly more than two football fields) dirt strip, and they have been known to literally land on rocky “goat fields,” or unimproved landing strips.
Miyauchi said the planes will fill a gap.
For example, the Skytrucks will have the capability to haul a bomb robot, something that can’t be done with any planes DPS has had to date, Miyauchi said.
They also have the capability to move a fully-equipped SWAT team.
In responding to an incident in eastern Arizona last month, half the team flew and the other half had to drive, but that won’t have to happen with the new planes, Miyauchi said.
The planes can also be used in wildfires or other emergencies where groups of people and equipment have to be moved quickly.
“This will have a drastic operational impact to better provide that public safety aspect,” Miyauchi said.
Miyauchi said the reason for getting two is to provide a seamless operation.
There will be a plane available when one goes out of service for maintenance or repair.