27 May 04. Taking to the air for the first time since its modification from a Bombardier Global Express to a Sentinel R Mk 1, the first ASTOR (Airborne Stand-Off Radar) aircraft, ZJ690, flew on the 26th May for a flight lasting nearly 4.4 hours. The flight was made from L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas, where the modification and integration work has been carried out.
The crew reported that the aircraft performed well in all parameters of flight and its handling differed little from that of a standard Global Express. “The aircraft wanted to leap into the air,” said L-3 Capt. Joe Wiser, a flight test veteran with 22 years experience. “All major systems performed optimally.” Capt Wiser went on to report, “During 4 hours and 24 minutes of flight time, the aircraft reached 15,500 feet, its low altitude objective. Overall, modifications to the aircraft produced very little drag. The more than 300 hours of risk reduction efforts during the aerodynamic testing phase really paid off; the aircraft flew extremely well without vibration and handled predictably.” He concluded: “Based on my experience with functional flight testing, this flight was remarkable.”
This flight follows a two year work programme in Greenville involving personnel from Raytheon Systems Limited (RSL), the prime contractor, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems (SAS), L-3 and the UK MoD. The remaining four aircraft in the £800 million (USD 1.3 billion) dual-service (Royal Air Force / British Army) programme are being modified at RSL’s facility in Broughton in North Wales.
Following the flight Bill Chrispin, the MoD’s ASTOR IPT Team Leader, said, “This first flight of the Sentinel R Mk 1, the air platform for the United Kingdom’s new Airborne Stand Off Radar system, is a major milestone in the route to fielding this brand new capability featuring second generation, state-of-the-art air-to-ground surveillance radar technology.”
He went on to say: “This successful flight keeps the UK’s ASTOR programme on schedule and on its way to becoming one of the key elements of the UK MOD’s Network Enabled Capability (NEC). With the new ASTOR radar on board, this high altitude, long endurance platform will give the UK’s armed forces a unique battlefield surveillance capability and enable effective interface with current US systems such as JSTARS and future systems such as NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system.”
Rob Crook, Raytheon’s UK programme manager for ASTOR cited the “close, inspiring and extremely effective” teamwork between Raytheon employees in Britain and America, L3 personnel and the MoD. “We are looking forward with great enthusiasm to delivering ASTOR systems on schedule to support the war-fighting capabilities of the United Kingdom,” he said.
Programme director Barry Steiner said: “The relationships between Raytheon, L-3 Communications, Bombardier and the customer have been excellent. This first flight is the result of a team adept at mitigating risk and pulling together to meet our in-service date next year.”
Jack Cronin, President and Managing Director of RSL, said: “The first flight marks an important milestone in this major UK programme and is evidence of the enormous effort and team work that has gone on between ourselves, our sister businesses in the U.S. and the MoD. We are eager to complete testing and deliver the world’s premier ISTAR capability to the UK armed forces.”
Derek Gilmour, vice-president, government and special aircraft sales, Bombardier Aerospace, said, “This historic milestone in the ASTOR programme validates the suitability of the Bombardier Global Express special mission platform, which combines superior range and field performance with a large and totally flexible interior configuration.”
ASTOR is scheduled to enter service in 2005.