Having taken just five orders for new aircraft in 2011, Airbus Military now has 25 sales already for 2012, and is cautiously optimistic about more before the year’s end. At the heart of the turnaround is the light tactical transport family.
While overshadowed in the glamor stakes by the A400M and A330 MRTT, the C212, CN235 and C295 continue to be popular choices for transport and surveillance tasks. The recent sale of five C295 tactical transports and three C295MPAs to Oman, plus a CN235 to Cameroon, highlights the importance of the family to the manufacturer.
Airbus Military is continuing to develop the C295, in particular, to meet new requirements. The aircraft is being improved in terms of power ratings, aerodynamics, systems and weapon options. Last year Airbus Military and engine maker Pratt & Whitney began a study to allow the C295’s PW127 turboprops to be operated at higher ratings. The new ratings, which will be certified in the next few months, allow TOGA (takeoff, go-around) power to be extended into the climb regime, and for maximum climb power to be extended into initial cruise. The rewriting of the aircraft flight manuals has been mainly introduced to improve hot-and-high performance and will have the effect of increasing available payload at higher altitudes, as well as slightly reducing overall fuel consumption.
Airbus Military has also designed wingtip extensions for the C295, which have been tested in the wind tunnel and are due to start flight tests at the end of this year. The upturned winglets will improve lift-to-drag ratio and add to ceiling/payload/endurance performance for a weight penalty of around 220 pounds.
Winglets have been tested on a tunnel model in airborne early-warning configuration, and this special-mission version could benefit from performance increases. The C295AEW first flew on June 7 last year, and completed initial flight tests by the end of July. Radar and mission system development continues, with Elta providing the radar, and a number of air forces are interested in this low-cost AEW solution. Airbus Military reports “preliminary discussions with three countries.”
Another mission to which the C295 is well-suited is maritime patrol, and Airbus Military sees a healthy market for the C295 in this domain. To that end it is currently integrating the MBDA Marte Mk 2 missile to give the aircraft an anti-ship capability. The C295MPA has three hardpoints under each wing (rated for loads of approximately 1,764, 1,100 and 660 pounds) and can already drop the Mk 46 torpedo in the anti-submarine role. Captive-carry trials with the Marte are due to begin this month, with separation trials due for September and firing trials set for October/November.
A third generation of FITS (fully integrated tactical system) has been developed for the C295, and the maritime aircraft for Oman will be the first to have this new system. The new FITS uses extensive COTS elements and is more user-friendly than earlier versions. It is also netcentric-ready, and Airbus Military has been working closely with Spain’s Guardia Civil to prove this capability.
Other improvements in the works are an option for a head-up display and enhanced vision system, giving an infrared picture for improved safety at night and in bad weather. This is due to enter flight test in the middle of next year. Ready for test later this year is an OBIGGS (onboard inert gas generating system) that reduces vulnerability in hostile tactical situations.
In May this year Airbus Military delivered a C295 to the Ghana air force. This aircraft was significant for being the first built to a more flexible and cost-effective system known as BRG (basic reference groups). In this process the subassemblies are fitted with as many systems as possible, with the result that final assembly time is reduced, with significant cost savings.
With the MPA version in service and the airborne early-warning version in the middle of a four-year development, Airbus is looking at further special missions for the C295. A multi-intelligence ground surveillance/Sigint version is being offered, with a variety of sensor options such as SAR/GMTI radar, EO/IR sensors and ESM/Elint antennas. Up to eight onboard operator consoles could be accommodated, based on the FITS developed for the MPA aircraft.
Another option is a gunship version. Airbus Military and ATK have developed a gunship version of the smaller CN235 for the Royal Jordanian Air Force, and two aircraft are undergoing conversion. A similar capability could be applied to the C295, perhaps as a palletized “roll-on, roll-off” option.
A palletized spraying system has already been designed for dispersing oil spills and other pollutants, and Oman is taking this as part of its eight-aircraft purchase. A natural development would be a fire-fighting kit, and this is being proposed by Airbus Military.