Aircraft That Served in Both Military and Civilian Markets

There are many examples in aviation history where an aircraft model has served similar roles in both military and civilian use. Especially during the early years of World War II, many civilian aircraft were either modified for, or impressed into military service. Throughout the latter part of the 20th Century, civilian transports were used by military forces for similar job functions, and sometimes a military design was altered to successfully serve the civilian market too.   

Here is a collection of military jet-propelled aircraft which have civilian counterparts. Our sister publication, ClassicWarbirds.net has a propeller-powered article in parallel to this story… here’s the link to that article: 

The Eurocopter MH-65 Dolphin is a US Coast Guard version of the civilian AS365 Dauphin.
The UH-72A Lakota is the US Army and National Guard version of the Eurocopter EC-145.
The Augusta/Bell 412 has been adapted into a Search and Rescue variant for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
Boeing’s successful B-747-200 has multiple versions serving for the USAF… this VC-25A serves routinely as Air Force 1, four others are National Airborne Command Posts. Others serve the Iranian Air Force as a tanker/transport.
This Danish Air Force Air Force AS-550C2 Fennec is adapted from the civilian AS-350 Ecureuil
Royal Air Force BAe-125 CC3 is a modified Hawker 125 executive jet.
Another Royal Air Force executive transport is this BAe-146 CC2, which is a BAe-146 airliner configured for VIP service.
This US Navy C-9B Skytrain II is a modified Douglas McDonnell DC-9-30 series airliner.
This USAF C-20B is a VIP configured Gulfstream G-III.
Learjet’s C-21A is a USAF version of the civilian Lear 35.
USAF Boeing C-22B transports were used for personnel transports; its civilian counterpart is the B-727-100 series airliner.
This USAF VIP-configured C-32A is a Boeing B-757 in Special Air Mission colors and modified with Air Force communications equipment.
This USAF C-37A is another USAF VIP aircraft, a modified Gulfstream G-V.
The Air National Guard Bureau once operated this C-38A version of the IAI Astra SPX.
US Navy/Boeing C-40A Clipper is a modified Quick Change version of the B-737-700.
Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris is a modified A-310 airliner.
The RCAF operated/operates numerous Canadair Challengers, this CC-144A was modified in an ECM training role.
The US’s Missile Defense Agency operated this DC-10-10 as the WASP -Widebody Airborne Sensor Platform-.
US Marine Corps operated this UC-35A, a variant of the civilian Cessna 560 Ultra.
Although the original Boeing B-707 platform and the military C-135 both grew out of the civilian Model 367-80, it became a world-changing civilian airliner as well as a tanker/transport for the USAF. Early C-135 s were modified into many military versions, this C-135C was an executive transport and an airborne laboratory based at Edwards AFB.
The civilian Bell 206 was built in a few major versions for the world market, and was adapted into the US Navy’s TH-57 helicopter trainer aircraft too.
The Grumman Gulfstream II was not used by many military air arms, but this G-II was used by the US’s Missile Defense Agency as an airborne sensor platform.
US Coast Guard HU-25C Guardian is based upon the original civilian Falcon 20.
Russian Air Force IL-62M VIP transport is externally similar to Aeroflot Russian Airlines passenger jets.
The Royal Australian Air Force operates this KC-30A MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport), a modified A-330 airliner.
The USAF’s new tanker/transport KC-46A Pegasus is a modification of the civilian B-767 airliner design.
Originally a US Air Force transport design, the Lockheed Jetstar became the VC-140 VIP transport and flight check aircraft. This NASA airframe was used in airborne aerodynamics tests.
The civilian Hughes 500 light turbine helicopter design was modified into the McDonnell Douglas MH-6 Special Operations aircraft… and a lesser-armed predecessor, the OH-6 Cayuse for the US Army.
The civilian Augusta 109E helicopter was modified as the MH-68A Stingray, a high speed drug boat interceptor.
The U.K.’s Royal Air Force operated the Nimrod MR.2 as a maritime patrol and anti-submarine jet… the airframe was based on the DeHavilland Comet airliner of the 1950s.
The North American Sabreliner was built as a military trainer and transport, like this USAF NT39A, and as the civilian N-265 Sabreliner executive jet.
America’s McDonnell Douglas and Italy’s Piaggio aircraft manufacturers produced this civilian light jet transport, known as the PD-808. No civilian orders were ever received, and only 25 military airframes for the Italian Air Force were ever produced.
Japan’s Mitsubishi Aircraft produced the MU-30 Diamond Jet as a light civilian executive jet. Beech purchased the rights to the aircraft, and made numerous BE-400 BeechJets. They also produced the T-1A Jayhawk trainer for the USAF, pictured here.
Lockheed’s L-1011 Tristar was a medium to long ranged civilian airliner manufactured in the latter part of the 1900s. The Royal Air Force purchased a handful of retired airframes and converted them into the Tristar tanker/transport.
Boeing has modified several B-737 airframes into Airborne Warning and Control Aircraft equipped with airborne radar. This jet was bound for Turkey.
The Royal Air Force operated four versions of the Vickers VC-10 jetliner as tankers and transports. Here’s an early model. the VC-10 C1K.
This USAF VC-137B is quite similar to the civilian B-707-100/200 series jetliner.
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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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