Aero GB TARGETS THE ‘SPECIAL MISSION’ MARKET
By Yvonne Headington
Surveying and Surveillance
From small beginnings Aero GB now has big ambitions. The Company has teamed with the Austrian sensor integration specialists Airborne Technologies to offer the Tecnam twin piston-engine, multi-mission aircraft (MMA) for surveying and surveillance applications. Key to the Company’s aspirations is the provision of managed services, tailored to the requirements of the commercial, military and security sectors.
Battlespace was invited to see the Company’s facilities at Biggin Hill Airport in Kent during an Industry briefing day on 29th March. The event included a live interactive demonstration of the Tecnam and a mobile ground station. For the purposes of the demonstration, the Tecnam flew with just two sensors – an RGB (red, green & blue) camera and a thermal imaging camera – which relayed images back to the ground station.
Battlespace also had the chance to view the Tecnam in flight from a Cirrus light aircraft flown by the company’s Chief Pilot, Steve Cooper. The Cirrus flew at 2,000ft, out to around 10 miles over Biggin Hill as Cooper skilfully brought the aircraft alongside the Tecnam, providing passengers with a clear view of the Tecnam’s discreet sensor bay located forward of the undercarriage.
Cooper founded Aero GB in 2005, as a flying school based at Gloucestershire Airport. In addition to 11 years’ experience as a commercial pilot Cooper has undertaken work for AirScan, the US-based airborne ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) company which provides services for government and private sector organisations.
In 2011 Aero GB was restructured and joined by Peter Varnish (Chairman) and Graham James (Chief Executive Officer). Peter Varnish is an acknowledged expert on stealth technologies and electronic warfare while Graham James retired from the police service in 2003, following a 30-year career (which included appointments as Deputy Assistant Commissioner with the Metropolitan Police and Operations Director of the UK Immigration Service).
Following Aero GB’s re-launch last year, acquisition of the Tecnam is set to enhance the Company’s ability to provide an economic and versatile service, based on a choice of platform and sensor mix.
Aero GB currently operates the Vulcanair P68 aircraft while delivery of the Tecnam is scheduled for later this summer. In the meantime, Aero GB will be leasing a Tecnam aircraft from mid-May. “I believe that [the aircraft] has only been seen once before in the UK to a very limited audience and it is very impressive” enthused Graham James during the demonstration. James went on to explain the advantages that small fixed-wing aircraft have over helicopters: lower noise level, greater speed and higher endurance, as well as being cheaper to operate. James estimated that, depending on sensor fit, Aero GB could offer a managed service for around £650 to £1,000 per hour, about 40% cheaper than the cost of a helicopter.
One oft-cited draw-back of fixed-wing aircraft is that the view from the cockpit is limited. James points out that given the high-wing and surround-view glass cockpit design of both the Vulcanair and Tecnam, the aircraft provide a high degree of visibility. “When you’re in a helicopter” said James “you often can’t see that much forward anyway because of all the gear and equipment”. The Tecnam and Vulcanair also offer greater mission flexibility. “It’s much easier to change sensors on these than it is in a helicopter” said James.
By offering a choice of platforms, Aero GB is aiming to provide a range of customised capabilities. The twin-engine, six-seater Vulcanair P68 has an endurance of eight to 12 hours, compared with the Tecnam MMA’s six to 10 hours. The Vulcanair also has room to carry three crew members (two pilots and an observer) as well as equipment. The four-seater Tecnam, is typically configured to carry