For almost 70 years, Field Aviation has been turning mainly Canadian-built types into special mission platforms – making, as its website boasts, “ordinary aircraft extraordinary”. The modifications house, based next to Toronto’s international airport, began transforming surplus wartime transports in the late 1940s. Its latest projects include partnering with Boeing on its Bombardier Challenger 650-based Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) and designing and installing a first-of-type cargo door on a new Bombardier CRJ700.

Field’s is a niche business: contracts rarely involve more than a tiny handful of aircraft. But its expertise and reputation means it handles some high-profile and prestigious projects, and MSA in particular could lead to bigger things. In 2013 Field carried out substantial structural changes to install sensors, radar equipment and other mission equipment on the Challenger 604 MSA demonstrator unveiled at last year’s Farnborough air show. Boeing is pushing the aircraft (dubbed, unkindly perhaps given its capabilities, the poor man’s Boeing P-8 Poseidon) at export markets.

Although Boeing has not yet sold any aircraft, the manufacturer has identified up to 30 potential customers and carried out a number of demonstrations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Any deals would likely mean further work for Field, which carried out its own post-modification ground and flight test programme prior to its Farnborough appearance. That work would be carried out in Toronto, with any extra capacity being provided at a new facility in the USA.

Field Aviation

One of Field's converted Bombardier types: a Q300 for Japan's Coast Guard

Andy Cline

That site is the result of an acquisition announced on 10 March, days after we visited, of Rockwell Collins’ Arinc Aerospace Systems Engineering and Support (ASES). The Oklahoma City-based business provides modification, integration and maintenance, mostly focused on large military airframes including the Lockheed Martin C-130 and Boeing KC-135, and will now trade as Field Aerospace. Field chief executive John Mactaggart says ASES’s business focus will complement the Canadian operations.

Field has been part of Cincinnati-based Field Aerospace – formerly investment house Amavco – since 2012. “When we purchased Field Aviation, we wanted to use the company as a launching point for further acquisitions, particularly in the USA,” says Mactaggart, who adds that the combined capability of both businesses “will allow Field to expand its product offerings from a small turboprop all the way up to the largest of jet aircraft.” Chairman Dan Magarian adds: “Expanding into the US market was always a primary objective and this purchase begins that process in a way that supports our current operations as well as our strategic growth plans.”

Another key current programme for Field – again involving a Bombardier aircraft – is a modification including a 1.83m x 1.27m left-side cargo door on the CRJ700 to turn the regional passenger jet into a multimission combi. Field has been working on the engineering for a year and will take delivery of a green aircraft from the Canadian manufacturer in May, with a planned completion date of May 2016. Although again a one-off for an unnamed customer, Field has ambitions to market its capability. “Our ambition is to do a scaleable design which we can tailor to any CRJ,” says programme manager Inder Semi. “We hope it will spur further activity.”

Currently on the shop floor at its Toronto facility is the first of four Challenger 604s Field is modifying for Cobham, which will undertake from 2016 a contract to provide an airborne search and rescue capability for Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority. Again, Field is installing a radome and other mission systems. Other recent contracts have included upgrading directly or through a third party six Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft with new flightdecks, designed by Field. The Universal Avionics system replaces up to 40 indicators and controls and is certificated in Canada, Europe and the USA.

It is legacy Dash 8 variants that represent the vast bulk of the company’s modification output. Field has adapted almost 40 of the Bombardier turboprops for special mission applications, the latest a maritime patrol Q300 for the Japan Coast Guard (JCG). The aircraft – delivered early last year – is the ninth JCG aircraft Field has completed as part of a programme that began in 2007. The modification includes a missionised interior, large observation windows and an air operable rear cargo door, vertical hatch and launcher tubes to give the aircraft an air drop capability. Surveillance equipment includes a 360˚ surface search radar and a stabilised electro-optical infrared turret.

The company also has links with another former de Havilland Canada type, the Twin Otter, now back in production with Viking Air of Vancouver Island. Field produces airframe parts for the lower fuselage and main landing gear for the Twin Otter at its factory in Calgary, and worked with the manufacturer on developing a multirole surveillance variant of the Series 400, which has primary sensors installed in its nose section, with the antenna for the search radar installed below the nosecone. Field also offers a mission suite and a range of optional features.

Field’s chief commercial officer, Brian Love, says the company’s “innovative and creative engineering design methodology” has made it a “world leader in the modification of aircraft in ISR roles”. He adds: “The future looks bright. We have, through our recent acquisition, created a company with considerable resources and skills in special mission aircraft modification, and with a much broader range of airframe expertise than we once possessed.”

Source: Flight International