UK’s Sentinel R1 ASTOR aircraft makes first data-gathering flight

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The UK’s first Sentinel R1 airborne stand-off radar (ASTOR) aircraft was expected to conduct the first image-gathering flight using its synthetic-aperture radar/ground moving target indication (SAR/GMTI) sensor last week.

Taking place from Greenville, Texas, the milestone flight was due to occur a week after prime contractor Raytheon Systems (RSL) delivered the battlefield surveillance system’s first of eight vehicle-housed ground stations.

Raytheon finished work on a ground-test radar early this year and recently completed acceptance trials of a second active-array sensor delivered in June for use in the flight-test activities using the programme’s first of five modified Bombardier Global Express business jets.

The first data-gathering flight will be followed by sorties every two to three days, with the ground-test radar used to support system analysis work, says Raytheon. The company expects to release its first SAR and GMTI imagery from the sensor by early next month.

The radar for the programme’s second aircraft will be delivered to the UK in the last quarter of this year, but “we could ship that out today”, says Raytheon vice-president integrated airborne systems Tom Kennedy. Full-scale testing will begin with 5(AC) Sqn early next year at RAF Waddington, and two complete systems are due for delivery to the UK in 2006. “We’re moving ahead faster than some expected of us,” says RSL managing director Jack Cronin.

CRAIG HOYLE/LONDON