Two UK Royal Air Force-registered Diamond DA42 MPPs could soon return to combat support after a successful eight-month stint in Iraq, where they flew a combined 2,000h in the surveillance role.

The aircraft, which are fitted with FLIR Systems Star Safire III electro-optical/infrared cameras, are two of the three multi-purpose platform aircraft delivered last year and operated by DO Systems of Salisbury, Wiltshire, on behalf of the RAF. The third example is used for training.

 DA42 RAF - Diamond Aircraft
© Diamond Aircraft

Diamond Aircraft chief executive Christian Dries believes the MPP variant's experience in the Iraq theatre gives a huge boost to its sales prospects in the military, law-enforcement and territorial patrol sectors.

The aircraft, displayed at last month's Paris air show, is essentially a version of the Austrian manufacturer's top-selling general aviation twinprop with a bubble canopy and exhaust muffler, and offered with a range of bolt-on pods on the roof, nose and belly. These can contain a range of equipment such as Cineflex high-definition cameras, Riegl laser scanners and the Scotty satellite communications kit. List price is around $4 million, depending on specification.

With general aviation in a tailspin, the surveillance sector has become Diamond's most important business. The company delivered 17 MPPs in 2008 and expects to produce between 50 and 60 this year. "A lot of countries are considering using our aircraft," says Dries. "A year ago it was impossible to consider selling to governments. They did not believe a lot of things are doable on this airplane. Now we are on the radar screen."

Other MPP operators include an Austrian fire service and the Niger government, which uses the aircraft to track smugglers across its vast desert territory. Dries says the MPP's muffler system makes it "impossible to hear" at above 5,000ft (1,520m).

Operating costs are "a tenth" of an unmanned air vehicle performing a similar role, Dries claims. "With defence budgets tightening, a lot of people are asking can they justify the cost of UAVs," he adds. The company has reported a "more than 99% reliability despatch rate" from the Iraq mission.

Other surveillance tasks have been conducted for the UK armed forces in Iraq using Elbit Systems Hermes 450 UAVs, with these flown under an urgent operational requirement deal contracted to Thales UK. The type is also used by the UK in Afghanistan, along with armed General Atomics Predator B/Reaper air vehicles.

DO Systems and the UK Ministry of Defence will not comment on the recent Iraq mission, but the aircraft have been returned to the civil register and are currently understood to be being used for military training in the UK.

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Source: Flight International