A New AEW Aircraft: Follow-Up

06/08/2011: We wrote earlier about the Airbus Military presentation on their testbed aircraft to provide a feasibility study for a new AEW aircraft.

The C-295 is being used as a test bed for the development of a new AEW platform, one that features a rotodome to gain 360 degree coverage. What is most striking about the proposed program is that it would fit into a strategy somewhat similar to SAAB’s whereby the company would offer a variety of combat air capabilities ranging from combat air, to AEW, to UAVs. Clearly, for the 2nd and 3rd world militaries, there will be no repeat of the “re-norming” revolution whereby 5th generation combat aircraft shape a multi-mission capability inherent within single platforms and fleets of those platforms.There is a clear need to work sensors and capabilities over a variety of air platforms, ranging from combat air to unmanned systems.  And a cost effective, highly maintainable and rugged system like the C-295 might prove attractive. And is another potential offering to the 2nd and 3rd world markets which to date only Embraer and SAAB are addressing.

And the clear advantage of the C-295 as a platform is that its fuselage is wider than the Embraer and SAAB offerings and can allow more operational space, an important consideration when doing airborne C4ISR.  By focusing upon the C-295, the company could offer a fleet of aircraft, which can be maintained in common, with different and correlated deployable capabilities.  This aspect of maintainability from a fleet perspective tends to be ignored by analysts but not by practioners. And as Miguel Angel Morell, Senior Vice President and Head of Engineering underscored, the system could be migrated to other aircraft such as the A320.

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Photo Credit:Airbus Military

The first flight of the aircraft occurred on June 7th.  According to the Airbus Military Press release:

The first Airbus Military C295 development aircraft fitted with an Airbone Early Warning sand Command (AEW&C) rotodome has successfully completed its first flight on 7th June 2011 at Airbus Military’s site in Seville (Spain). The flight follows extensive research and development work, including wind tunnel testing, leading to the conversion of a C295 to be fitted with the in-house developed rotodome The aircraft took off at 17h16 local time (15h16 UTC) and landed at 20h04 local time (18h04 UTC), after a flight lasting 2h48 (wheels off – wheels down). The experimental test pilot Alejandro Madurga captained the flight together with co-pilot Alfonso de Castro, the Flight Test Engineer Juan José Baeza, and the Test Flight Engineer Antonio Ojeda.

The objective of the trials is to verify the aerodynamic and structural impact of the rotodome on the aircraft’s overall structure, handling qualities and performance. The six metre diameter rotodome fitted for the initial trials is a fixed dummy structure. On production aircraft the rotodome would be a fast-rotating device housing a state-of-the-art radar providing full 360 degree and continuous coverage of a selected area. “This first flight confirmed to us that the C295 is an excellent platform to support such a rotodome”, said Alejandro Maurga after the flight. The behavior of the aircraft and its flying characteristics were very satisfactory and as expected”. Flight testing will continue during the next three months to complete the feasibility study and fully validate the concept.



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