Seabird Aviation Jordan (SAJ) plans to place the two-seat, Lycoming O-360-B2L-powered Seeker SB7L-360A aerial surveillance platform into serial production next year. Designed in Australia and assembled in Amman, Jordan, the Seeker on exhibit here at the Dubai drew a purchase order from the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority last year. It also recently has undergone an assessment by the U.S. military and government.
Two Seekers subsequently became the first aircraft delivered to the reformed Iraqi air force, which has since appreciated the unique features of the aircraft. Its developers originally offered it to civil operators in Australia, but few takers ever surfaced. However, the Jordanians expressed interest at the 2003 Dubai Air Show, which led to the formation of Seabird Aviation Jordan (Stand No. E405) and the transfer of production to Amman.
The King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) took a majority share in the company and put in place plans to open a new factory at Queen Alia International Airport. Aircraft manufactured there will be exempt from export corporation tax and customs duties.
Seabird contracted with STS of Bangalore, India, to digitize the design using Catia 3 software to ensure the quality of outsourced components. Meanwhile, plans call for production of eight complete wing, empennage and fuselage sets in Bangalore, followed by 16 sets of unassembled parts in Jordan.
However, in the wake of the sale to Jordan’s neighbor, where the pair of Seekers forms the nucleus of the Iraqi air force’s aerial surveillance squadron, the Dabin Group of Irbil, Iraq bought a 42-percent share of SAJ. The capital injection by Dabin, a commercial consortium with extensive interests across the Middle East, raised the value of SAJ to more than $28 million. Alec Mackenzie, SAJ’s chairman, told AIN that the deal “will help to fund the jigs and tooling as well as release funds for product development.”
With mounting concerns over homeland security, border patrol and environmental surveillance in many parts of the world, SAJ has assessed the size of the observation aircraft market to exceed 2,000 over the next eight years. The Seeker has a high wing at the rear of the cabin and a pusher engine, giving the crew unobstructed visibility but at acquisition and running costs claimed to run one-third those of a comparable twin-seat helicopter.
Low Vibration, High Visibility
Having sampled the Seeker’s virtues as an observation platform during a demonstration flight from Marka Airport in Jordan, AIN can confirm excellent all-around visibility and signifantly lower vibration levels typically associated with a helicopter. Seabird equipped the demonstrator with a FLIR Systems Ultra 7500 sensor pod, while a BMS live video-transmission system enables ground observers to receive real-time images.
A less sophisticated surveillance package may prove adequate for civil operators of the Seeker when using the aircraft for power- or pipeline patrols. But wherever “low, slow and often” surveillance missions are needed, the aircraft can provide a highly cost-effective solution.
However, while volume production for up to 50 Seekers a year will begin in 2006, Mackenzie revealed plans for the development of derivatives. These could include a turboprop-powered six- to eight-seat version, as well as the SB9 Stormer a tandem-seat reconnaissance/ground interdiction aircraft that could mount a variety of weapons.