Aquila Aerospace is displaying a Bombardier Challenger 650 at the Dubai Airshow, painted in a grey scheme that hints at its future military role. The aircraft is the first of two that have been acquired for modification to an intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR) configuration for the UAE Air Force at Aquila’s facility at Al Bateen in Abu Dhabi.
After the airshow, the first aircraft will begin flight tests in preparation for the modification process, which is expected to take 18-24 months. The second aircraft is due to be delivered later this year. The process begins with stripping out the current VIP interior and much of the aircraft’s wiring.
The modification includes adding a belly radome for a radar, which requires a fuselage aperture, and the installation of an electro-optic sensor and communications. Internally the Challenger will be fitted out to accommodate four system operator consoles, along with new wiring and the cooling required by the mission system. The original design, which was first unveiled at the IDEX show in Abu Dhabi in February, featured large observation windows, but they have been deleted at the customer’s request as it was decided that the aircraft’s sensor capability rendered them unnecessary.
In UAE service the aircraft is intended to serve as a multi-role ISR asset, with both maritime and overland capabilities. The radar has synthetic aperture radar (SAR) mode and ground moving-target indication (GMTI), as well as an inverse SAR mode for, among other things, maritime vessel identification. The aircraft will also have signals intelligence systems.
A key element of the program is the establishment of Aquila as the leading provider of special-mission modifications in the region as part of the UAE’s drive for greater indigenous defense technological and industrial capability.
With the Challenger program, Aquila Aerospace has taken the approach of offering a platform that can provide almost all of the high-end ISR capability of much larger aircraft, but at a fraction of the cost. It intends to apply this philosophy to other programs and is already talking to a number of other potential customers.
While Aquila is working closely with Bombardier on the Challenger project, the company is also prepared to meet customer requirements that might require platforms from other OEMs. Although customers in the Gulf region are largely looking at jets, the company notes that potential operators in southeast Asia favor slower aircraft. As a result, Aquila has already discussed the potential of the Q400 with de Havilland Aircraft of Canada.