Special missions - The Transformairs
Ian Goold reports on how business aircraft can show another face as they line up for special missions
Pictured:The Global Express in its ASTOR guise
The possible appearance of Lockheed Martin’s Gulfstream III Airborne Multi-intelligence Laboratory (AML) at this month’s Dubai Air Show follows the modified business jet’s first military exercise supporting the US Army.
Planned as a sensor and data-processing testbed, the aircraft has already taken the eye of several possible customers, according to Lockheed Martin information systems & global services strategic programmes programme manager Charles Gulledge.
Another of Gulfstream’s business-jets, the G550, is seen as an alternative ‘platform’ for the technology.
The GIII, which has US Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness approval in the experimental category, carries an under-belly ‘canoe’ fairing, which houses a synthetic-aperture radar and electro-optical/infrared sensor, while on-board systems provide communications, electronic, and signals-intelligence capability. Should the aircraft appear at
The machine provides a graphic illustration of the different markets available for aircraft that had been originally conceived for business, corporate, and executive use.
Another example of such alternative application is
The generic title special missions (SM) may cover a multitude of government, military, quasi-military, or utility duties, of which electronics-systems ‘platform’ is just one.
The perceived market has led business-aircraft manufacturers Bombardier and Gulfstream to establish dedicated business units, dubbed Specialized Aircraft Solutions (SAS) – formerly Government and Special Mission Aircraft Department (G&SMAD) and Special Missions Program Office, respectively, to promote military variants.
With the prospect of good money to be made from both provision of the original airframe and possible related maintenance and logistics support contracts, many other aerospace companies, including Cessna, Dassault, and Embraer, have entered the market.
It is much less expensive to adapt an established airframe than to originate a design for possibly a relatively modest production run. Such commercial off-the-shelf arrangements typically cover aircraft already certificated to a high standard of reliability with normal systems that may be maintained by engineering personnel the world over without special training.
Of course, the resulting aircraft, after modification, may bear little resemblance to the original model, when all manner of drag-worthy protuberances have been added, along with multiple antennae and various humps and bumps. And that is without considering possible major internal changes to accommodate more sophisticated instruments and equipment.
A key requirement for an effective military SM aircraft is the integration of command, control, communications, and computers (C4) and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) airborne capabilities. Their roots as established jet or turboprop business-aircraft programmes means SM variants offer military end-users a combination of modern equipment, advanced systems redundancy, and low down-time levels, according to one manufacturer.
Nevertheless, such programmes involve serious airframe changes to accommodate all the avionics equipment to support related radar and sensing systems. Special missions require special equipment, says Bombardier. The Canadian manufacturer claims it has the expertise to integrate and install complex systems, including forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and other radars, counter-measures and secure communication systems.
With eyes very firmly on military requirements, a broad-ranging February 2009 Teal Group special-missions report divided the market into six segments: air surveillance, bombers, electronic warfare, ground-surveillance/command, maritime patrol/antisubmarine warfare (ASW), and tankers. Teal Group analysts point out the over-arching budgetary realties that influence the sector. “These diffuse segments suffer one unifying problem – special-mission planes are often among the last to receive funding.”
They cite, for example, the 1990s’ airborne early warning/airborne warning and control system (AEW/AWACS) market. “Just four ‘high-end’ planes were sold (to
Another challenge for manufacturers hoping to convert turbine-engined business aircraft for alternative military special-mission roles can be inter-service rivalry. “The recent fracas over the US Army’s Aerial Common Sensor program was complicated by the question of whether the Army was getting into Air Force turf.”
Business aircraft have been used for non-VIP flying since the earliest days of the genre. Indeed, the longest-serving aircraft in
The Cessna Citation, the world’s most-popular business jet, has found its way into the special-missions market as, likewise, has the Hawker Beechcraft King Air; by far the most popular business aircraft – jet or turboprop.
Learjets have been used in military service since 1965, when the US Air Force (USAF) began to fly Series 23 aircraft. Dassault Falcon 20s have provided airways calibration services for the French, Indonesian, Iranian, and Spanish governments.
Bombardier claims its SAS business unit meets aircraft and mission systems’ requirements, whether needed to gather information over battlefields, patrol oceans, or monitor navigational systems. In 1996, it set up the original G&SMAD unit. In SAS guise, inaugural deliveries comprised the first of five Global Express-based Sentinel aircraft for the RAF under the UK ASTOR programme and a CL-604 Challenger to the Korean National Maritime Police Agency (KNMPA).
Bombardier has also provided the Royal Danish Air Force with a CL-604 Challenger, ordered to replace earlier Gulfstream SMA-3s employed on exclusive economic zone and fishery-protection duties. Available SM modifications include air-operable door, observation windows, drop hatch, launch tubes and emergency equipment. Overall, more than 300 aircraft have been delivered to more than 35 governments for SM duties.
Cessna says its ubiquitous Citation series is perfectly suited to test and evaluate navigational aids. The manufacturer also promotes it for other utility or SM roles such as aerial imagery, airline crew training, medevac, and surveillance and patrol. Cessna sees the Citation XLS as “an excellent platform” for flight-inspection work, continuing an application previously performed by the Citation V. Such markets have included
French manufacturer Dassault supplied the US Coast Guard (USCG) with 41 Falcon 20-based HU-25 Guardian aircraft, which entered service in 1982 and have only this year begun to be replaced by EADS/Casa HC-144A turboprops. The HU-25s provided maritime patrol, SAR, contraband interception, and (occasional) executive transport service. The aircraft sported large port and starboard observer windows and employed crews of five, comprising pilot, co-pilot, two observers, and avionics operator (to work radar and radios).
Other military operators included the French Navy, which accepted the first of four Falcon 50M maritime-surveillance aircraft in 2000. As an SAR platform, it can drop eight 30-passenger rescue buoys in a single operation. Falcon multi-role SM aircraft also are used for maritime surveillance, target towing, medevac, and navigation-aid calibration. Around 200 various Falcons have been produced for multi-role special-mission operations.
US manufacturer Gulfstream Aerospace’s Special Missions Program Office works with governments and defence contractors to meet specific national requirements, co-ordinating aircraft modifications and integration of mission equipment.
A subsidiary of General Dynamics, Gulfstream provided Gulfstream V (GV)-based special electronic mission aircraft (SEMAs) for use in the
More than 30 countries operate SM Gulfstream corporate jets, including the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF), which flies multi-purpose Gulfstream IV-MPA aircraft (designated U-4s) to perform three different mission roles: medevac, high-priority cargo, and passenger. Domestically, Gulfstream has delivered five GVs to the
Other customers outside business aviation include the US National Science Foundation, which operates a GV, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (GIV).
By far the most active in the SM market among current business aircraft manufacturers has been Hawker Beechcraft – in its earlier Beech and Raytheon iterations. The company reports having delivered almost 3,000 SM aircraft since the 1960s.
The Beech King Air 90 series made its debut in 1964 and was wearing
The King Air 350 entered service with
Italian manufacturer Piaggio Aero claims versatility, reliability and advanced technology make its P180 Avanti II the “ideal aircraft for delicate, crucial missions”. In special-mission mode it is used for patrol, photo-detection and civil and military flight inspection. The configuration is used by military and government agencies for air-ambulance, surveillance, and coastal defence and patrol duties.
Soon after its launch, the special-mission aircraft was promoted at the 2003 Dubai Air Show. Offered roles include medevac, cargo services and search-and-rescue. Operators range from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Air Services to
French manufacturer Daher-Socata unveiled a multi-mission aircraft (MMA) version of the TBM 700 and 850 business turboprops at this year’s Paris Air Show. It is equipped with a retractable Thales Agile 2 gyro-stabilised turret, holding up to four sensors (such as infrared and electro-optical systems or laser rangefinder and/or designator to mark targets) for reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence operations.
Sample non-VIP roles played by business aircraft
Gulfstream says that its widebody corporate jets can be configured for medevac operations with the cabin laid out for several litters for mass-casualty evacuation. A medevac Gulfstream G400 can hold 12-14 patients in standard NATO litters, plus three medical attendants and supplies. Alternatively, there is an intensive-care configuration. Further, full surgical facilities are available for critically ill patients. The manufacturer has developed an air-transportable patient-loading system in co-operation with medical equipment suppliers.
The JASDF GIV-MPA was fitted with a 5ft X 6ft cargo door to meet Japanese Defense Agency medevac requirements.
Bombardier customers for medevac-convertible aircraft include: Quebec Government (CL-601 Challenger), Rega Air Swiss Ambulance (three CL-604 Challengers), Irish Air Corps (Lear 45XR), Canadian Global Air Ambulance (Lear 35A), and Saudi Armed Forces Medical Services (Lear 35).
By the end of this year,
Dassault delivered its first Falcon 20 air-ambulance in 1967 to Europe Assistance, which is said to fly hundreds of medevac flights every year.
The extraordinary section of the Avanti II cabin, the largest in its segment, provides large space for the health operations and boarding of patients. The perfect pressurization is able to maintain sea level up to a flight altitude of 24,000 feet, away from turbulence.
Terrorism attacks against the
The introduction of FLIR in 2002, to create the HU-25C+ variant, gave the USCG the ability to identify vessels from longer range. Also, flying at greater altitude and more stable power settings improved fuel efficiency and extended flight duration.
Flight test and R&D
Turboprop and jet business aircraft have been pressed into service as flight-test platforms for R&D. For example, one RAF Dominie was operated for many years in trials such as wind-shear investigation and sound attenuation. A pair of Dassault Falcon 20s were supplied to the French Air Force for use as test beds for weapons and radar system research.
Maritime patrol and fisheries protection law enforcement
The Piaggio Aero P180 Avanti II is designed for maritime surveillance activities for government agencies protecting the land-use, illegal immigration, smuggling and illegal traffics. The monitoring of territory is effected by means of a FLIR / TV Camera (Forward Looking Infra Red) installed on the lower part of the fuselage.
Similarly, USCG HU-25 Guardians have been used to enforce local fisheries laws throughout the
Customers currently using Bombardier aircraft as flight-training platforms include USAF, with Lear 35s, and Singapore Airlines, which has a small fleet of Lear 45s.
In 1965, Air
Since 1992, Lears have been used in
Seven of the GFD Lears have been equipped for EW training with provision for under-wing jamming pods and a third crew member. Dassault supplied EW-equipped Falcon 20s to
Use of business and utility designs in environmental-protection duties has included USCG operations with HU-25B Guardians to detect pollution. Crews look for evidence of oil and hazardous chemical spills, their natural-resource protection responsibilities including enforcement of marine environmental laws and the protection of marine mammals and other endangered species.
A Falcon 20 has been equipped with special measuring equipment such as visible-light, ultraviolet, and radar cameras for resource exploration.
Calibration and flight inspection
Testing of navigational aids and landing systems is another essential role provided by aircraft initially developed for business use.
Bombardier examples include: US Federal Aviation Administration (Lear 60, and CL-601 and CL-604 Challengers); Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (Global Express); government of
Ordered for delivery this year, two Turkish government Cessna Citation XLS aircraft will be used by the country’s General Directorate of State Airports Authority (DHMI) to inspect airport navigation aids. The aircraft, which replace two Citation Vs acquired for special-mission purposes in 1993, are modified to include flight-inspection calibration equipment produced by Norwegian Special Missions.
Dassault has supplied Falcon 20 equipment for use as a West German government special weather-research aircraft. Four years ago, Gulfstream delivered a special-mission GV to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), while a GIV-SP is used by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to track hurricanes.
Among business-jet operators conducting search-and-rescue duties has been the Japan Coast Guard, which introduced a pair of Dassault Falcon 900s in 1979 for flights up to 1,200nm offshore. In such operations, the US Coast Guard flew its Falcon 20-based Guardian aircraft at 500ft, descending to 200ft and slowing to 130kt if needing to drop safety or other equipment to ships or people in distress.
Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)
In March 2007, the Iraq Government ordered five King Air 350ERs for ISR against a total requirement for 24 aircraft. Last November, the US Air Force ordered 23 King Air 350ERs and took options on six more.
Other special-mission non-VIP duties performed by business-jets include border control, disaster relief, and navigation and military training.