Orion Air Group Breaks Cover To Describe Special Mission Work

 - July 25, 2011, 4:30 AM
The Orion Aircraft Group has modified this Gulfstream IISP as a communications testbed. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The Orion Air Group upped its profile by displaying a Gulfstream IISP modified as an R&D testbed at the Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, UK, in mid-July. The privately held U.S.-based group was founded about three years ago, and generated nearly $200 million in 2010 from special mission and corporate aircraft services. The latter are marketed under the Tempus Jets name.

Orion’s first and biggest defense-support contract is with Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, for which it flies three Bombardier Global Expresses modified to carry Northrop’s battlefield airborne communications node (BACN) system. The aircraft fly from Bagram airbase near Kabul, Afghanistan, to provide a communications gateway over the country to connect disparate voice and datalink networks, both satcom and line-of-sight. The U.S. Air Force recently renewed Northrop’s contract to provide this “Internet Protocol server in the sky.”

Orion acquired the Gulfsteam IISP in late 2009 to support Northrop Grumman’s development of the multi-role, tactical-command data link (MR-TCDL). The modified business jet features 19-inch and nine-inch, satcom dish-antennas, as well as additional radomes on the top and bottom. Orion is now offering the aircraft to other developers of sensor and communications equipment.

Under contract to L-3 Communications and working with Switzerland’s Pilatus Aircraft, Orion has also designed, integrated and certified an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaisance (ISR) suite on the PC-12NG single-engine turbprop. It comprises a retractable FLIR Systems Star Safire EO/IR (electro-optical/infrared) sensor ball, satcom and line-of-sight datalinks and a mission-management system. Orion is flying four of these aircraft under contract–two in Africa for U.S. AFRICOM and two for U.S. Navy special forces.