UAE Air Tractor Goes On Show
Making its public debut at the Dubai Airshow is the Air Tractor AT-802i, an agricultural aircraft heavily modified for counter-insurgency/light attack/ISR missions. The aircraft were purchased by the UAE with a mission system integrated by Iomax, and it is believed that a batch of 24 is nearing the end of delivery after the first arrived at the end of 2010. The U.S.-based company has now migrated the mission system from the Air Tractor AT-802 to the outwardly similar Thrush 510P airframe and launched the aircraft as the ArchAngel at this year’s Paris Air Show. Any future purchases would most likely employ the Thrush platform.
A variety of weapons is available for the AT-802i, the aircraft on display here being shown with GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on two of its six under-wing hardpoints. A centerline fuselage hardpoint carries a FLIR Systems EO/IR (electro-optical/infrared) turret on Iomax’s flexible pod system. This not only mounts the sensor ball in a low position to avoid interference from the propeller and undercarriage, but also includes datalinks for downlinking imagery; a self-contained GPS receiver; and an interface to the aircraft’s mission system. The pod can also be fitted with defensive countermeasures as an option.
Another important weapon intended for the AT-802i is the Roketsan Cirit laser-guided rocket. Cirit is an all-new 2.75-inch precision weapon, as opposed to an upgrade of existing unguided rockets, and has been ordered by Turkey for its T-129 Atak attack helicopter, and also by the UAE. The first firings from a fixed-wing aircraft were made in January from an AT-802i at a Middle East range, most likely somewhere in the UAE.
Here at the show the AT-802U is displayed alongside a Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan, which is also outfitted for light attack/ISR duties. It is armed with Hellfire missiles, of which up to four can be carried. There are a number of ISR options on offer for the Caravan, including those that mount the sensor ball on removable rails either in the cabin doors or rear fuselage. The UAE aircraft have a fixed FLIR Systems EO/IR turret below the forward cabin. The Caravans are believed to be operated by Group 18 of the UAE’s Special Operations Command, which also flies a variety of helicopters such as the CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky UH-60, examples of which are also on show.
Both AT-802i and AC-208 are part of an impressive display of UAE military aircraft that range in size from the Boeing C-17 transport to the Grob G115TA Acro primary trainer. The latter is part of a lineup that reflects the UAE air force’s current training syllabus, students beginning with the Grob before progressing to the Pilatus PC-7, Pilatus PC-21 and then BAE Systems Hawk.