What Defines Multi-Mission Aircraft Operations?
Multi-Mission Aircraft include civil aircraft used for specialized services in industries such as agriculture, construction, media, recreation, law enforcement, medical, training, etc.
Confusion can exist around this sector because multiple terms with the same meaning are used to describe it. These include ‘Aerial Work’ and ‘Special Mission’. These, and other terms are all used to define this same third pillar of aviation.
What’s the History of Multi-Mission Operations in Aviation?
The multi-missions sector has a longer historical tradition than General Aviation, the airlines, or air charter operations, tracing its roots back to 1858 when Gaspard-Felix Tournachon ‘Nadar’ first took aerial photographs of Paris from a hot air balloon.
After World War I, with a surplus of aircraft and a large pool of unemployed aviators, innovative pilots began using airplanes for aerial work. Many saw the utility of using aircraft for a wide number of applications.
Once the surplus market of aircraft had dried up, and through the Great Depression of the 1930s, aircraft manufacturers continued to produce better, more capable aircraft that incorporated closed cockpits, improved engines, and more. This expanded the lift and the reach of aircraft to carry a new range of loads and specialized equipment.
Following World War II, an even greater surplus of aircraft existed, and with global manufacturing capacity and a growing world economy, multi-mission operations continued to grow. The use of mass-production techniques (like those of the auto industry reduced the cost of GA aircraft) with platforms such as the Cessna 172 and Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander seeing widespread use.
Because of this, aircraft came to be used increasingly in specialist roles such as crop spraying, policing, firefighting, air ambulances, and more.
Additionally, as helicopter technology developed, rotorcraft came into widespread use. Today, with the advancement of digital technologies and with smaller and more economical manned and unmanned platforms, the multi-mission/aerial work industry is developing in line with many other expanding industry sectors that in the past could not afford or realize their business models.
What do Multi-Mission Operations Cover Today?
Multi-mission operations cover almost anything. With ever expanding technology, the application of aircraft to provide an aerial work service is ever changing and innovating. The core industries that the sector supports includes:
- Environment Management
- Construction and Land Development
- Real Estate
- Public Safety
- Maritime Management
- Animal Management
- Science and Research
To break things down further, the core types of multi-mission operations or services that you’ll commonly see include (but aren’t limited to):
Civil (Commercial Providers)
- Mapping and Surveying
- Monitoring and Inspecting
- Photography and Cinematography
- Glider Towing and Skydiving Hoisting
- Crop Dusting, Monitoring and Seeding
- Pilot and Crew Training
- Insurance Risk and Claims Management
Public Safety (Commercial and Public Providers)
- Police Patrol
- Police Surveillance and Investigation
- Fire Fighting
- Search and Rescue
- Ambulance and Medical Evacuation
- Emergency and Disaster Relief
Defense (Commercial Providers, in Support of Public Contracts)
- Command and Control
- Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
- Electronic Warfare
- Research and Flight Testing
- Aerial Targets
- Pilot and Crew Training
What Defines a Multi-Missions Aircraft?
Multi-mission aircraft can be defined as General Aviation aircraft utilized, modified, or adapted with specialized equipment or systems to accomplish a specific task for hire.
With the advent of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones in the aviation community, however, this is not just a manned aircraft aviation sector anymore, and the types of platforms now used in aerial work operations are both manned and unmanned.
To further sub-define the type of air vehicles used in routine utility operations, you’ll see every kind of platform from fixed-wing, rotor, and even lighter-than-air (i.e. weather balloons) used for many different specialized applications. These are flying underground in mines, around and above your house, and in the Stratosphere.
Many aircraft used in these operations are modified or integrated with systems or components that support the specific task the aircraft’s intended to accomplish. Some will have these components either integrated with the airframe or attached via pods/hard points for quick configuration, allowing the aircraft to be used for multiple roles as required.
Some aircraft can even be converted from a manned aircraft to an unmanned air vehicle with a few simple procedures and system changes.
The components and systems that make a Multi-Missions aircraft a ‘workhorse’ can vary from a kneeboard, towing brackets, spraying systems, searchlights, rescue hoists, right up to a Seaspray Radar.
The interior of an aircraft operating in the sector might be reconfigured from its original layout to make it more functional for a specific operation (with passenger seats removed, an operator station and equipment rack installed, and additional systems in the luggage compartment).
Multi-Mission and General Aviation Operations: What's the Difference?
Multi-mission operations are civil aircraft used for specialized services. General Aviation operations are civil aircraft used for flights that are not commercial air transport operations or aerial work operations.
Looking to the future, with so many changes happening around the world regarding the addition of unmanned technology, global economic shifts, and environmental concerns, it’s plausible to see multi-mission aviation becoming more dominant than General Aviation.
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