Texas Buys High-Tech $7.4 Million Aircraft

Similar to aircraft uses by the U.S. airforce for wartime operations, the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered a custom Pilatus PC-12 complete with a $1.3 million imaging and downlink system.

by / October 18, 2012
The Pilatus PC-12 NG Spectre features surveillance gear similar to what's used by the pilotless U.S. drones in war zones and elsewhere around the globe. Photo courtesy of Pilatus Inc.

The Texas Department of Public Safety spent $7.4 million on a plane, called the PC-12 NG Spectre, that will mostly be used to monitor the Mexican border, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). The purchase was prompted by critics of police using drones to carry out long-term surveillance missions.

Among the features of the new aircraft is a $1 million array of high definition, thermal-imaging surveillance cameras and a $300,000 downlink system that allows the crew to send imagery in real time to various agencies throughout the state. The new plane also has a pressurized cabin, which allows flight at altitudes up to 30,000 feet.

The PC-12 NG Spectre is part of the state's effort to control the border, an effort that many Texans have complained the federal government is not managing well. Since 2007, Texas has spent a reported $600 million in taxpayer funds to watch the border. 

“Our law enforcement strategy continues to adapt to the evolving threats around us, including the tactics of ruthless drug cartels and transnational gangs,” Texas State Police Spokesman Tom Vinger said, CIR reported. “We have a responsibility to protect and serve Texans, and we simply cannot meet tomorrow’s threats with yesterday’s strategy.”

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command has 10 Pilatus aircrafts similar to the one to be deployed in Texas that it uses for “tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” first purchased for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Phoenix Police Department also bought a $4.1 million Pilatus PC-12 in 2009 along with a $800,000 high definition imaging system.

The plane to be used in Texas is now being modified and will be delivered early next year.

Visit the Center for Investigative Reporting for an in-depth look at the privacy issues surrounding Texas' purchase.