Raytheon has doubled the size of its test fleet for the UK’s airborne stand-off radar (ASTOR) programme, with the arrival in Greenville, Texas, yesterday of a second modified Sentinel R1 airframe.

The aircraft – a heavily modified Bombardier Global Express business jet – completed an 11.5h transatlantic journey just 4min behind schedule, having conducted one refueling stop in Dallas, Texas en route to facility owned by L3 Communications. It is pictured below taking off from Raytheon Systems’ (RSL) site at Broughton, UK.

Astor taking off W445
Picture: Raytheon Systems

The first of four Sentinel R1s to have undergone modification in Broughton, the aircraft (ZJ691) was earlier this year equipped with a dual-mode synthetic-aperture radar (SAR)/ground moving target indication sensor housed within a “canoe” fairing beneath its forward fuselage.

The sensor will be used to gather high-resolution imagery of the battlefield from stand-off distances as part of the UK’s wider intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance aircraft fleet. The Raytheon design captured its first SAR images late last year (Flight International, 17-23 January).

“Adding a second aircraft to the flight test programme gives us significant flexibility in completing our flight test objectives”, says Rob Crook, RSL’s ASTOR Programme Director. ZJ691 will return to the UK around mid-year to support a period of operational flight testing which is scheduled to conclude prior to the delivery of the first two aircraft in the third quarter of this year.

A total of five Sentinel R1s will enter service with 5(AC) Sqn at RAF Waddington by early 2007, with the programme’s first aircraft having been modified by Raytheon in the USA. To operate at altitudes above 40,000ft (12,200m), the aircraft has three onboard operator stations, with an option for a fourth, and will relay real-time imagery to dedicated ground stations also being supplied as part of the UK’s approximately £950 million ($1.6 billion) ASTOR programme.

Source: Flight International