15 May 2009

Since January 1965, when a Learjet 23 business aircraft was reconfigured to fly a medevac mission, Bombardier has been offering Specialized Aircraft Solutions (SAS) to its clients. Today, some 330 modified Challenger, Global Express, Learjet and Q-Series turboprops are flying a breathtaking range of missions for military and government clients worldwide. For example, Challenger aircraft are used by many governments as VIP transport. But this versatile two-engine business jet also serves as an air ambulance platform in Switzerland, and a search-and-rescue/ maritime surveillance aircraft in Denmark.

The Royal Air Force is flying five modified Global Express aircraft as high altitude air-to-ground surveillance platforms, under the country’s Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) program. “With its ability to fly at 51,000 feet, far above most military and civilian aircraft, the Global Express is ideally suited to the ASTOR mission,” says Derek Gilmour, Bombardier’s VP sales and marketing, Specialized and Amphibious Aircraft. “The Global Express flies faster and farther than any other business aircraft in its class, and uses shorter airfields.”

The United States Air Force has a fleet of 76 Learjet 35As (C-21As) that provide executive transport and logistic support around the world, 24/7. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses Bombardier Q-Series turboprops for a range of electro-optical, radar and tactical communications missions. Australia and Sweden also use Q-Series aircraft for coastguard and maritime patrol missions.

“These are just some of the many duties that specially-modified Bombardier aircraft support,” says David Jurkowski, Bombardier’s VP of government relations and sales support, Specialized and Amphibious Aircraft. “Collectively, they signify the growing awareness among government and military officials that, in many cases, it just makes sense to repurpose civilian aircraft for specialized missions, rather than build mission-specific aircraft.”

One obvious reason for repurposing civilian aircraft is money: it just costs less to adapt an existing, proven platform than to build one from scratch. But the advantages do not end there. Bombardier’s commercial aircraft are rigorously tested, built with multiple levels of redundancy, and supported by training, parts and service centres worldwide.

“From an economic and operational point of view, using a special-mission-adapted Challenger or Global Express makes good sense,” Gilmour says. “It’s not only about money: we can support our government/ military clients in more places and on tighter schedules, than they can with their own ­mission-specific military pattern aircraft.”

So what is the tradeoff? “Unless you are looking for a commercial aircraft to fulfill a military fighter role, there isn’t one, ,” Jurkowski replies. “Ops primacy trumps all.  The increasing use of our aircraft as operational military platforms show that they do not compromise the operational mission.  The same can be said for non-military roles; when the FAA chooses Global and Challenger aircraft to validate airport facilities and equipment around the world, they are choosing it precisely because it can do the job they need done, first and foremost. Our aircraft get chosen for specialized missions because they can do the jobs.”

With a full range of jet and turboprop aircraft upon which to draw, Bombardier’s Specialized Aircraft Solutions are meeting more mission requirements than ever before. In a world where both cost and operational effectiveness matter, it makes sense to look at the SAS option first, before embarking on any mission-­specific, customized aircraft design-and-manufacturing program.
James Careless is a freelance defence writer.
To learn more about Bombardier SAS, visit www.specialmission.bombardier.com
or call 613-237-4556.
© 2009 FrontLine Defence