Boeing's Challenger-based maritime surveillance aircraft nears first flight

Washington DC
Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

Boeing’s maritime surveillance aircraft (MSA) demonstrator will soon take to the skies.

Aircraft modifier Field Aviation tells Flightglobal that structural conversions on the aircraft, a Boeing-owned Bombardier Challenger 604 business jet, are nearly complete and that it is “nearing” the first flight test.

Toronto-based Field declines to provide a more specific timeframe, but adds that flight testing is on track to conclude by the end of the year.

Following airworthiness flight tests with Field the aircraft will undergo systems testing with Boeing, which has said the MSA will be ready for production in 2015.

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Boeing's maritime surveillance aircraft demonstrator. Courtesy Boeing.

Field and Boeing have teamed on the project to offer a Challenger-based offshore surveillance and patrol aircraft that has advanced mission systems but is more affordable than Boeing’s 737-based P-8 Poseidon.

The MSA won’t be as capable as the P-8. But it will cost around $55 million to $60 million, roughly one-third of the P-8’s price, according to Field.

Though the demonstrator is a Boeing-owned Challenger 604, future aircraft will be based on Bombardier’s updated Challenger 605. It will have a range of about 2,500nm (4,630km) and an eight-to-nine hour endurance.

The aircraft is targeted at militaries, coast guards and other government operators worldwide, a market Boeing estimates is worth $10 billion during the next ten years.

Boeing has identified 20 to 30 potential customers and thinks it could sell 150 to 200 modifications, says Field.

The base version of the MSA will be manned by two pilots and three system operators, and will be offered with a Selex ES Seaspray 7300 maritime surveillance radar and a FLIR Systems Star Safire 380 electro-optical and infrared sensor.

Options include two additional crew stations and equipment like satellite communications and a side-looking airborne radar (SLAR), says Field.

Future aircraft could also be outfitted with weapons mounted on wing hard-points.

AVOIDING PITFALLS

Field is confident the MSA won’t suffer pitfalls that affected previous small-jet-based surveillance aircraft projects, such as Lockheed Martin’s aerial common sensor programme.

The US government terminated that project in 2006 because the electronics’ power, weight and cooling requirements overwhelmed the Embraer ERJ-145 platform.

Field says the MSA will have plenty of power and adequate cooling fans and air ducts.

And power requirements of modern electronics have declined as the technology has been commercialised, Field says.

Also, the MSA has no launch customer.

That’s important, according to Field, because launch customers can sometimes demand more capability than an aircraft can supply.

“Sometimes military organisations try to drive you beyond a point that is reasonable,” Field says. “You have to acknowledged there is a limit.”

The company notes it has experience converting other civilian aircraft into patrol aircraft.

Field is working with Canada’s Viking Air to produce the Guardian 400, a coastal patrol aircraft based on the DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400.

Field has also converted de Havilland Canada Dash-8s into coastal patrol aircraft for Australia and the US Customs and Border Protection.