On July 5 a business jet landed on a highway in Southern Mexico, and was set on fire. A few days earlier on July 2, law enforcement officials found a Gulfstream II business jet abandoned on a clandestine runway in Southern Mexico. Its occupants, and the drugs it was carrying, were gone. These are part of a growing number of ‘narco planes’ used to smuggle cocaine from South America. And Gulfstreams, as it happens, are quite popular with the smugglers. Analysis of nearly 40 reported incidents so far this year shows a pattern of which aircraft types are used most frequently. All but a handful of the incidents analysed can be grouped under the four families below. Together, they constitute 84% of incidents.
#4. Gulfstream business jets
6 of the narco-plane incidents analysed involved were Gulfstreams, mostly the older Gulfstream II type. In the 1960s these were the first large, long-range business jets on the market. They can carry 14 or more passengers for around 4,000 miles, making them ideal smuggling aircraft.
The narcos have proven that they can be flown from relatively austere, clandestine airstrips.
#3. Hawker HS-125, and later BAe-125
This family of corporate jets, originally flown as the Hawker Siddeley HS-125, has been around since the early ‘60s. It was in production for 50 years, during which time it its name changed to the BAe-125. Many of the 1,700+ built were sold in the Americas, where is is still a decent second-hand market for them.
Overall they are just a bit more common than the Gulfstream, making them the most popular ‘narco jet.’ Many are flown from Venezuela or Colombia, north to Belize, Guatemala or Southern Mexico.
The suspected narco-plane which landed on a highway in Mexico on July 5 was a BAe-125.
#2. Cessna single-propeller light aircraft
These are most likely the aircraft we picture when we think of illegal drugs flights. And they are quite common, but mostly for shorter trips. The aircraft flying up from South America to Central America are more often the larger twin engine types.
Today the Cessna 210 Centurion model seems predominant. Although it hasn’t been produced since 1986, 9,240 were built, so there is a ready supply on the second hand aircraft market.
#1. Beechcraft King Air and Super King Air
the No. 1 slot goes to the reliable Beechcraft Super King Air, and occasionally its little brother the King Air. These don’t have the speed of the business jets but their decent range and capacity makes them ideal for drug traffickers. What is more, over 6,000 have been built of the two models, making them relatively common on the second hand market. Nine have been reported being used so far this year.
There are other types used also in much smaller numbers. Drug smugglers, it seems, will use whichever model they can get their hands on. These include the occasional vintage Rockwell Sabreliner and Piper Aztec. Some of the aircraft involved, particularly those which crash in the dense jungles of Central America, cannot be identified from open sources. And of course, we don’t know about the ones which don’t get caught. But the above list rings true.