Bombardier Pitches Special-mission Conversions for its Bizjets

 - July 22, 2020, 11:43 AM
The Royal Air Force has been flying five Sentinel radar-imaging aircraft on operations in the Near and Middle East since 2008. (UK MoD)

Bombardier made a fresh pitch for special mission versions of its business jets at an online briefing held in conjunction with the Farnborough Airshow’s FIA Connect effort. Steve Patrick, v-p of specialized aircraft, said that all of the company’s portfolio, from the Learjet 75 to the Global 7500, are candidates for conversion.

In particular though, Patrick claimed that the Global jets offer “unrivaled size, weight, power, and cooling capacity.” For instance, the Global 5000/5500 series provides up to eight operator workstations, up to 200 KvA of baseline electrical power, and a payload of 7,139 pounds.  The largest of the breed, the Global 7500, can accommodate at least 10 operators, plus four seats at the rear for crew rest, VIP transport, or briefings. According to Patrick, the spacious cabins offer “a low-fatigue environment.”  That is significant, because the larger Bombardier jets offer an endurance of 18 hours. 

To date, the 6000/6500 series has proved the most popular for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, with “hundreds of thousands of hours flown,” according to Patrick. The lead customer appears to be the UK Royal Air Force, which has flown its five Sentinel R.1 aircraft on multiple operations since 2008. Saab recently delivered the first of three 6000s converted for Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) missions to the UAE Air Force.

Bombardier allows integrators like Saab considerable flexibility in customization. Patrick identified four available options. In the “all-inclusive” Option A, the company performs all the design, integration, test, and certification, and modifies the aircraft. In Option B, the customer does the modification. In Option C, Bombardier does the design, but the customer does everything else. In Option D, Bombardier provides only licensed design data and engineering support.

Gulfstream, Bombardier’s main competitor, has a much more restrictive policy. For instance, it has previously told AIN that it would not allow third parties to alter the outer mold line of its aircraft. One third-party conversion of Bombardier Global 6000s, done secretly and possibly using Option D, appears to have encountered significant technical problems. It took five years for the UK’s Marshall Aerospace to deliver the first of two aircraft equipped with imaging and SIGINT sensors, to the UAE Air Force.

In 2018, the U.S. Air Force ended a competition to replace its aging Boeing 707 JSTARS radar imaging and battlefield management aircraft with a business jet. Bombardier teamed with Lockheed Martin to offer the Global 6000. The Air Force expressed fears that such aircraft were now vulnerable to new air defense developments such as the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system. But Patrick appeared to suggest that all was not lost in that particular campaign. “I’m sure as [the U.S. Air Force] goes forward and identifies the solutions to their threats in the near-peer conflict, if there is a need for a business jet solution, we will offer one,” he told AIN.