Jets set for rescue makeover

rescue plane

IN a dedicated hangar at Adelaide Airport, Cobham Aviation Services is modifying four former business jets to become some of the world’s most advanced civil search and rescue aircraft.

Cobham is integrating advanced sensor equipment and mission systems in to four Bombardier Challenger CL-604 aircraft in South Australia on behalf of the c (AMSA).

Under a 12-year, $640 million contract Cobham will own, operate and maintain the Challengers for AMSA from bases in Perth, Cairns and Melbourne, ready to fly at 30 minutes’ notice by day and an hour at night on rescue missions of up to eight hours. A fourth aircraft will act as a ready reserve.

AMSA is the government authority responsible for co-ordinating search and rescue across Australia and its maritime zones, covering 10 per cent of the earth’s surface. In 2015 the agency co-ordinated 429 rescues, saving an estimated 219 lives on land and sea.

The Challengers will be a vital part of the AMSA system, locating people in distress, dropping survival equipment and co-ordinating surface rescue efforts.

The aircrafts’ sensor kits will include some of the most advanced technology on the civil market, including a Wescam MX-15 electro-optical turret with infra-red and video sensors, Selex 5000 maritime surveillance radar, Direction Finding (DF) radio homing equipment and Inmarsat satellite communications.

Cobham has selected Australian technology wherever possible, including a South Australian Acacia Research mission management system with the ability to stream audio, video and images to AMSA’s Canberra Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in real time, and Melbourne company Sentient Vision’s Kestrel ViDAR (Visual Detection and Ranging) system that uses pixel-level image analysis to highlight objects against a background of land or sea on the operator’s display. All systems will be integrated in to the aircraft in Adelaide.

The aircraft will also carry lifesaving stores such as self-locating datum marker buoys, life rafts, dewatering pumps, smoke markers, sea dye and packages of medical supplies, food, water and communications equipment, to be air-dropped through a modified rear door that can be opened in flight.

Instead of specifying particular aircraft types or bases, AMSA’s request for tender asked bidders to show how they would execute tasks sourced from historical search and rescue data.

Cobham proposed the Challenger jet for its range, low-altitude handling and performance and its ability to transit at high speed above inclement weather.

An AMSA spokesman said the Challenger would provide the organization with “a capability that is quite different to the current platforms”.

“It has a significantly higher transit speed and endurance, and will be able to spend a longer period on the scene of a SAR task before needing to return to base,” he said.

Cobham is scheduled to test the first modified aircraft by early July before service entry in Perth in early August and Cairns and Melbourne later in the year.

Source: The Lead South Australia

Author: Philip Smart

Photo: The Lead South Australia