Paris Air Show

Diamonds shine in air-sensor role

 - June 16, 2009, 6:41 AM

With no fewer than four airborne-sensing versions of the DA42 on static display here, Diamond Aircraft of Austria is staking a major claim to the growing market for low-cost surveillance platforms. Since entering the market two years ago, the privately held company has already sold 12 DA42 MPPs (multipurpose platforms) based on the popular DA42 touring aircraft.

Diamond Airborne Sensing (DAS) has adopted a modular pod philosophy to cater to the disparate needs of air forces, law enforcement and civilian remote-sensing. The nose and belly mounting hardpoints are standard, but the kit that can be attached to them varies widely. The “universal nose” can accept EO/IR gimbals, high-definition video cameras, or large-format digital cameras. Two sizes of belly pod are on display, the smaller one capable of housing the latest mini-SAR radars, the larger sized for a laser scanner.

A dedicated power source provides 28V/50A to the mission equipment. There should be a significant increase in this value once Diamond begins offering a “new-generation” version of the DA42MPP using AE300 engines provided by subsidiary Austro Engines. The AE300 is a diesel engine adapted to run on jet-A1.

There have been serious problems supporting the civilian DA42s and some friction between Diamond and the bankruptcy administrators of Thielert, the engine maker.
But DAS sales manager Markus Fischer told AIN that spare parts for the Thielert engine are still available, albeit not under warranty terms previously offered to civilian owners. The AE300 is “the future” for the remote-sensing market, he added.
One of the aircraft on display here is modified so that the exhausts of its Thielert engines are mounted above, rather than below the wing. This makes the airplane even quieter than before–it is inaudible from 8,000 feet, according to Fischer–and also reduces the aircraft’s infrared signature.

Diamond has demonstrated a 13.5-hour endurance using just 240 liters of fuel. But that seems excessive for an aircraft that can be flown by a single pilot plus single mission systems operator. Eight hours is more realistic for a standard mission flown between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, orbiting at 90 knots. The ceiling of the DA42MPP is 18,000 feet, and the maximum speed 155 knots.

Total flying hours can quickly mount in the surveillance business, so Diamond’s low total cost of operation (?350 per hour) must be attractive to many potential operators. DAS has sold 12 aircraft to date: to the UK, Niger, Nigeria and Venezuela. The UK is a signature customer (for the Royal Air Force) but Diamond is not allowed to talk about it. AIN understands that three aircraft have been delivered and deployed to the Middle East, carrying a FLIR Systems Star Safire EO/IR sensor ball, a data link and other communications enhancements.