We’ve Spotted Some Secret Iraqi Spy Planes
Photos hint at growing fleet of surveillance-optimized DHC-6s
On May 10, 2017, a ceremony took place at Al Muthana air base in Iraq in the presence of Iraqi air force commander Gen. Anwar Hamad Amin. In the background of photos taken that day, a De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter with an Iraqi flag on the tail is visible.
The presence of this DHC-6 is surprising because no such aircraft has been reported as having been delivered to Iraq. According to sources War Is Boring agreed not to name, this airplane arrived in Iraq in secrecy in 2014 and is currently being used by the Iraqi intelligence service.
The DHC-6 does not belong to the Iraqi air force or army and is not assigned to any permanent squadron. This particular aircraft is not the first of its type to be seen in Iraq. There could be at least two DHC-6s secretly operating in the country.
The Al Muthana DHC-6
In December 2013, a DHC-6 bearing the registration number N212RA was photographed in a hangar in Erbil in northern Iraq. This number N212RA is currently not assigned in the Federal Aviation Administration registry — and was previously registered to an Aerostar 600 of CLE Aviation LLC of Wilmington, Delaware until October 2008.
Actually, the Erbil DHC-6’s real registration number isn’t N212RA, but N122AR — note the subtle inversion of two letters and one number, an apparent means of masking the plane’s true identity. N122AR joined Twin Otter Support Services LLC in June 2011. It previously carried the registry number N100AP and today is in service with Wilmington-based LLH Services LLC.
Although the Erbil DHC-6 has been repainted in white-gray colors, the blue-on-white color scheme that’s typical of LLH Services aircraft is still noticeable. Furthermore, the position of the portholes on the sides of the plane match those on N100P.
The other DHC-6 in service with LLH Services was number N225CS. It was officially removed from service in March 2008 and allegedly scrapped. Its registration number was “cancelled” in May 2011. The color scheme of the DHC-6 photographed at Al Muthana matches that on N225CS. The portholes match, too.
In other words, it seems that two former LLH Services aircraft have found new roles as spy planes in Iraq. A DC-3 spotted in the same hangar in Erbil is a Basler BT-67 Turbo-67 with the registration number N707BA belonging to the U.S. Department of State Air Wing, which may be involved in Iraq’s acquisition of the two DHC-6s.
Some of the Iraqi DHC-6s
The DHC-6 is a 19-passenger, short-take-off-and-landing utility aircraft that was produced in three main series — 100, 200, 300 — until 1988. After purchasing the remaining equipment, Viking Air acquired the type certificate for the DHC-6 in 2006 and then launched the 400-series, which includes the Twin Otter Guardian 400 for surveillance operations.
The Guardian 400’s low acquisition and operating cost and flexible architecture allow operators to combine sensors and interior fittings to meet specific mission profiles. It can be equipped with an electro-optical and infrared imaging turret, a 360-degree digital radar system, a large-range fuel tank and a crew observation station.
It’s unclear whether the Iraqi DHC-6s have surveillance gear, but such special-mission modifications can be applied to all DHC-6 series. IKHANA Aircraft Services recently acquired a supplemental type certificate to modify DHC-6 series aircraft with wing hardpoints.
With the hardpoints, a DHC-6 could carry sensor pods.
According to the website Scramble, two DHC-6s have operated from Al Muthana since at least October 2014 — the apparent LLH Services planes. They carry the Iraqi serial numbers YI-391 and YI-392.
It’s unclear whether the crew of these apparent spy planes are Iraqi or American. U.S. Air Force U-28 surveillance planes have flown from Iraq with Iraqi serials and American crews.