OPERATIONAL SUPPORT AIRCRAFT

Electronics special mission aircraft

Corporate aircraft in military guise for sensitive government business.


Israel Air Force Gulfstream IV configured for AEW&C missions. Israel also operates 3 Gulfstream Vs in electronic intelligence (ELINT) missions, and a G550 airborne warning and control system (AWACS). All were outfitted by IAI subsidiary ELTA Electronics Industries.

Hiding the antennas In the case of electronic special mission aircraft, housings for the special mission systems and antennas frequently require design and certification work. Typically these aircraft are fitted with forward looking infrared (FLIR), side looking airborne radar (SLAR), synthetic aperture radars, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), and various camera and recording systems.

While most of these technologies have been around for quite a while, they are constantly being updated and refined, so a 10-year-old FLIR system has nothing like the capability of a state-of-the art installation today. Gilmour cites Bombardier's recent experience in modifying its Global Express, which was chosen by the UK Ministry of Defence for the airborne standoff radar (ASTOR) program for the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Bombardier integrated all the systems into the aircraft, down to the line replacement unit (LRU) level of the electronics installation. This allowed Bombardier's engineers to begin designing the shapes of the housings and pods while system integration design was still under way. Because the housings and pods are external, they affect the aircraft's flight characteristics as well as the structural loads on the airframe-all factors that have to be analyzed, flight tested and certified.

"By the time the systems came along, we already had the aircraft certified," Gilmour says. He estimates that being able to develop the housings and pods in parallel with the systems saved the program a year of development time.

Bombardier's first ASTOR Global Express-designated Sentinel R1 in RAF service-was displayed at this year's Farnborough Air Show. Expanding market The Global Express/ASTOR sale is just one of many that has helped make Bombardier a major player in the special mission market in recent years.

Counting all models and brands, Gilmour says Bombardier now has more than 300 special mission aircraft in operation around the world-80 of them with the US government. He cites as examples aircraft flying in Japan in airways calibration/flight inspection missions, in Germany with the Luftwaffe as ultra-VIP transports and with FAA in a flying test role.

Bombardier's Dash 8-Q400 regional airliner is being used in Australia, Iceland, Japan and Sweden in maritime patrol configuration, as well as with the US Customs Service. Learjet 60s and Challenger 604s are flying airways inspection missions.

French Navy Dassault Falcon 50EX during a maritime patrol mission. These aircraft are equipped with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and search radar installations. They can also reportedly carry up to 8 air-droppable 25-person life rafts.

Gulfstream business jets serving in the US military are designated C20 (GIII and GIV), C37A (GV) and C37B (G550), and are operated by the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. Other customers Gulfstream identifies are the National Science Foundation, which operates a GV, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has a GIV.

And Israel operates a G550 in airborne early warning (AEW) configuration and a GV for special electronic missions. Embraer has had recent success in adapting its EMB145 regional airliner to electronic special mission roles. Recently the company reported the sale of 3 EMB145s configured for airborne early warning and control to the Indian government.

Embraer says the airplanes will be used in developing India's surveillance program. Embraer already has EMB145s operating in Brazil, Greece and Mexico performing what it describes as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Dassault has been actively marketing its Falcon 50, 900 and 2000 series in electronic surveillance, electronic intelligence gathering, electronic warfare training, airways calibration, aerial survey (camera platform), target towing, weapons system training and electronic counter measures training applications for many years.

Of approximately 1500 Falcon jets delivered over the years, some 180 have been outfitted for one or more of these multirole applications. Key operators of these special mission equipped Falcons include the French Air Force, Egyptian Air Force, Italian Air Force and Japanese Coast Guard.

Turboprop regional airliners such as this Australian Coastwatch Bombardier Dash 8-Q200 are popular for low-altitude maritime patrol missions. Bombardier says Q300 and Q400 versions of the Dash 8 are also selling well in the electronic special mission market.

Cessna reports delivering about 40 aircraft in surveillance configuration over the past 2 decades, mostly based on its model 560 Citation and 208B Grand Caravan. The US military operates the Citation 560 in surveillance guise as the OT47B, while the Caravan in military configuration is the U27A.

Largest supplier By far the most active in the special mission market among current business aircraft manufacturers has been Hawker Beechcraft-in its earlier Beech and Raytheon iterations. The company reports having delivered more than 2700 multiengine special mission aircraft since the 1960s.

While about half of these were training aircraft, some were legitimate reconnaissance airplanes that helped pioneer the market for the sophisticated electronic surveillance aircraft being sold today. Initially, the market for business aircraft in the military was almost entirely training, beginning shortly before the US entered WWII.

But, starting in the late 1950s, as electronics began to get smaller, the first electronic special mission applications began to appear, and it was Beech Aircraft that built them. In 1957 the company began delivering L23Ds-military versions of the Twin Bonanza, which would itself ultimately evolve into the King Air-equipped with an airborne radar installation housed in what looked like a large add-on baggage compartment.

Just 2 years later, the US Army was flying L23Ds equipped with an actual SLAR, carried in a much more streamlined pod slung beneath the aircraft. Business airplanes were in the electronic surveillance market.

At the same time that electronics were being scaled down, business aircraft began to grow in size and payload capacity-a critical element in their adaptability for electronic special mission applications. The Beech King Air 90 series made its debut in 1964, followed less than 2 years later by the airframe's first military application, albeit in an unpressurized version. It was designated U21.

With a significantly larger cabin than the L23, the U21 had the potential to carry enough electronic gear to conduct a meaningful mission. Most of the 110 U21s delivered to the US Army were simple utility aircraft, but in 1967 Beech delivered the first of 4 aircraft designated RU21.

 

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