Paris Air Show

G550 spy plane can be pilotless

 - June 19, 2007, 11:08 AM

Boeing has revealed a surprise and innovative entry for the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) competition. While two rival bids use High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Boeing is adapting the Gulfstream G550 business jet to fly the mission manned or unmanned. In a further surprise, Raytheon has joined Boeing’s bid to offer an active-array maritime surveillance radar that will use software modes from the proven APS-137 and its derivative, due to fly on the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

“This is a unique solution that will really open your eyes,” said Tony Parasida, vice president for ASW and ISR programs at Boeing. “We are leveraging much of the mission software from the P-8, and the flight control software from our work on unmanned combat air vehicles for the U.S. Air Force.” Boeing is developing the P-8 from the Boeing 737-800 airliner, as a replacement for the U.S. Navy’s long-serving P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The critical design review for the P-8 program is next week, Parasida revealed, and the first aircraft should be delivered in mid to late 2009. 

The U.S. Navy conceived the BAMS program as a supplement to the P-8, using the persistence of today’s HALE UAVs to provide 24/7 coverage of broad ocean areas. Northrop Grumman is bidding a system that uses the Global Hawk UAV as the platform. In a separate, preparatory program, it has already delivered two Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GH MD) aircraft to the Navy. Lockheed Martin has teamed with General Atomics to offer the latter’s Predator B as an alternative, lower-cost HALE UAV platform.

But Boeing believes that, with regulatory acceptance of UAVs flying in controlled airspace lagging, it is prudent to offer the option of what some call an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV). The BAMS concept calls for the selected platform to descend from high-altitude if necessary, to obtain positive identification of suspicious shipping. That, too, could prove problematic for a UAV, if not technically, then procedurally.

“We are delighted to be part of this exciting proposal,” a Gulfstream spokesman told Aviation International News. “The G550 is a proven, reliable platform that can be supported anywhere in the world.” More than 140 of the latest version of Gulfstream’s long line of business jets are now in service. In addition, Gulfstream has plenty of experience in adapting its jets for special missions. The G550 has a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet, a normal cruise speed of Mach 0.8 and a maximum range of 6,750 nm.

That speed would offer the Navy a considerably faster transit to the area of interest, but the range might not compare with that possible from a HALE UAV. Boeing confirmed to AIN that although its BAMS entry had a manned option for the cockpit, there was no intention to also carry mission operators as an option. Therefore, that cabin space could be available for extra fuel tanks, though Boeing would not confirm that.

“We’re in a very competitive environment,” said Parasida. Indeed, that’s why Boeing kept the wraps on the BAMS proposal, even after it was submitted on May 3. The sensor aspect is also very competitive. Raytheon provided the radar for the two GH MDs, but Northrop Grumman opted to develop an in-house radar solution for BAMS. Tom Kennedy, Raytheon’s vice president for missions systems integration, claimed to AIN that only his company has developed the necessary software to distinguish surface targets from “wave clutter,” when flying at very high altitude.     o