CASA in it for long haul with military transports

 - July 19, 2010, 10:47 PM

Robust and versatile, the series of small-medium tactical transports designed by CASA in Spain are still enjoying steady sales after more than 40 years. Now owned by EADS and marketed by Airbus Military, the C-212, CN-235 and C-295 have logged 817 sales to 127 operators in 58 countries. “These aircraft are little jewels. They are our bread-and-butter, and deserve more headlines,” said Airbus Military CEO Domingo Urena.

The top-of-the-line C-295 is on show here at Farnborough. CASA has sold nearly 100 of the aircraft and is currently producing units for Chile, Mexico, Poland and Portugal, with five for Vietnam to come. Capable of carrying 71 troops or nine metric tons for 2,900 nm, the C-295 has a cargo hold that is actually one inch longer than that of a C-130, said commercial senior vice president Antonio Rodriguez.

Airbus is particularly proud of the palletized maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) fit that has been developed for Portugal’s C-295s. “We have the only multi-role MPA for sale,” Rodriquez claimed. 

These C-295s carry the same fully integrated tactical system (FITS) that EADS-CASA designed for the upgrade of Spain’s P-3 MPAs, albeit with fewer operator consoles. In fact, the FITS has also been installed in CN-235s and C-212s. According to Airbus, it is the world’s top selling aircraft in its class, with 108 units sold.

The FITS uses rugged COTS hardware and is being migrated to Windows using the free Linux software. It is adaptable to different sensors and missions, such as ground surveillance.

“We develop all the code ourselves, so it is fully exportable,” said Miguel-Angel Morell, senior vice president technology. Airbus Military also provides ground-based mission support and training systems.

The C-295 can fly for up to 11 hours in the MPA role and can be equipped with underwing hardpoints. Torpedo drop trials were done last spring, from the prototype ASW aircraft for Chile. The internal configuration for these aircraft was designed on the same CATIA system that CASA used to design the C-295 in the late 1990s. In fact, Morell claimed that the C-295 was the first aircraft to be completely designed in CATIA. That claim is also made by Dassault with respect to the Falcon 7X, but Morell said CASA used Version 4 for the C-295 before Dassault used Version 5 for the 7X, “and we designed the tail for that plane,” he added.

The CN-235 has a payload of six metric tons or 51 troops, and a range 2,600 nm. It carries one less 108- by 88-inch pallet than the C-295, that is, four instead of five. More than 250 CN-235s have been sold, about half of them from a second production line in Indonesia, where Nurtanio (later IPTN) was the launch partner back in 1979.

The headline customer has been the U.S. Coast Guard, which has been using the aircraft to monitor the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Two more CN-235s are currently in production for the USCG, plus one for the Colombian Navy and eight for France.

The C-295 and the CN-235 are now built on a common assembly line on the south side of San Pablo airfield in Seville, in the huge new production facility that also houses final assembly of the A400M. “We’ve never had a big backlog for these aircraft–that’s the type of market they are in,” said Urena. It is therefore important, he added, that the low-rate production is managed as efficiently as possible, which is done by outsourcing key sections to six countries, including Indonesia, Turkey, Portugal and the EADS-PZL factory in Poland.

As the aircraft comes together on four static line positions at Seville in southern Spain, customization of the final configuration can be delayed as long as possible, so early delivery can be offered to new prospects. Urena said the total market segment is only about 30 aircraft per year, and he is happy that EADS-CASA has achieved about two thirds of that in recent years.

The C-212 first flew on March 26, 1971, and has evolved through three versions into today’s 400 series. It carries 20 troops or three metric tons, and flies for 1,000 nm. Five aircraft for Thailand are being completed.

According to Urena, the C-212 faces lots of competition in its weight class, most of them faster, but none of them offering a rear-loading ramp. However, he added, “We need to be more price-competitive...I can’t afford to produce it in Europe.” He is therefore exploring the possibility of licensing or subcontracting production to Indonesian Aerospace (formerly IPTN). “They have the skills...why not try this adventure?” he asked.

Airbus Military sees a bright future for the C-212/235/295 series. The increase in drug trafficking and smuggling, and the growth of organized illegal immigration, is driving new applications and new sales. Meanwhile, fisheries control, pollution control and search-and-rescue remain staple missions. “We sell aircraft to Ireland so they can capture illegal Spanish fishermen,” said Morell with some irony, given the aircraft’s Spanish heritage.