Boasting a rich heritage of developing special mission aircraft stretching back more than 40 years, Bombardier has only recently formed a Specialized Aircraft Solutions unit with Derek Gilmour as its vice president. Over that period the company has designed, built and delivered well over 300 special mission aircraft for customers worldwide.
Perhaps the most topical of these is the Sentinel ASTOR aircraft making its debut here at Farnborough International. The program entails five Bombardier Global Express business jets extensively modified to meet the UK Royal Air Force C4ISR (command control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) requirements for many years to come. Indeed, the success of this program has led to the Global Express being considered as a candidate platform for other similar requirements including the U.S. Aerial Common Sensor program.
Today the demand is for turnkey solutions involving relatively few aircraft that fit needs as precisely as possible, but also offer flexibility as new missions arise and others fall into disuse. Gilmour emphasized that Bombardier can offer solutions drawn from a wide spectrum of designs, from the Learjet 45 to the Global Express and beyond in terms of size to the Dash 8Q twin turboprop series.
Often the company becomes part of a team such as that led by Raytheon Systems, which provided and integrated its dual-mode SAR/MTI (synthetic aperture radar/moving target indicator). But Bombardier designed and tested the installation of the UK ASTOR system, using its extensive simulation, modeling and other research resources, culminating in the installation of mission management systems, military satellite communications and the latest in other communications and datalink equipment.
Bombardier’s Specialized Aircraft Solutions unit is not just selling platforms but also the expertise needed to tailor each aircraft to meet a specific need. Five Learjet 35/36 aircraft were recently delivered to Germany to provide target-towing services, while a potential special mission customer asked for a demonstration of the ability of a Global Express aircraft to take off at maximum all-up weight and climb to 45,000 feet within half an hour.
“The Sentinel requires a lot of electrical power capacity but the Global Express 5000 was designed to meet demanding civil standards, so that defense customers often benefit from the read across from civil certification authorities,” explained Gilmour. Often surveillance and patrol aircraft are the most demanding in terms of electrical power and in addition to the UK, key customers for such specialized aircraft include Korea and Denmark (both with Challenger 604s), while Sweden, Australia and the U.S. have each selected Dash 8s for maritime or border surveillance tasks.
Aircrew training is another area in which Bombardier aircraft are employed extensively, with some airlines using Learjets for transition training, as graduates move from flying school to airliner flight deck. Other aircraft are used for threat simulation, target towing, electronic warfare and airborne target presentations to train air defense system operators on land, at sea and in the air.
Some of the aircraft supplied by Bombardier for maritime patrol can be abruptly switched to fly passengers or cargo before reverting to surveillance tasks but the U.S. Air Force alone operates a fleet of 76 C-21A (Learjet 35A) aircraft that undertake operational support airlift missions worldwide. In another read-across from the civil to the military sector, aircraft such as the Global 5000 or Challenger series have been used for flight inspection duties certifying airfield calibration from Kabul to Baghdad to Tashkent.
Bombardier-built and equipped search and rescue and disaster relief aircraft operate in many parts of the world and the CL-415 amphibian is perceived to be ideal to respond to such disasters as a tsunami, while some specially equipped Challengers are tasked with operating as air ambulances fitted with intensive care stations and the latest specialist life support equipment.
Looking to the future, Gilmour foresees a demand for the joint aircrew mission adaptive training system (JAMATS) as installed in a Learjet 60, which has a net centric compatibility that will prepare aircrews for demanding real world missions. Finally, the possibility of using existing Bombardier aircraft modified to conduct unmanned autonomous missions, or perhaps to serve as launch platforms for other smaller UAVs is being investigated.