Spyplane Out In Public

words and pictures by wayne bennett

There was an interesting military visitor to my local airport on Wednesday evening. Bombardier Global Express 6000, serial number 1325, is one of two (the other being 1326) acquired by the United Arab Emirates Air Force. It arrived at Doncaster Sheffield (Robin Hood) Airport, the former RAF Finningley, in the early evening of an unusually busy Wednesday at the airport, for reasons unknown at this time. Indeed, the exact purpose of these two aircraft is itself shrouded in secrecy, but a look at the airframes is enough to deduce that their role is very likely to centre on SIGINT and ISTAR duties, possibly in a similar way to the Royal Air Force’s fleet of Raytheon Sentinels, which are operated by No5 Sqn based at RAF Waddington and are also based on the same basic aircraft type.

Arrays displayed, the kit on board this aircraft is clearly complex and advanced.

The most obvious visual clue is the large ‘canoe’ fairing under the forward fuselage which, in the Sentinel, houses a Sideways Looking Aperture Radar (SLAR). The UAE aircraft, however, appear to lack the dielectric panel and so the similar shape of this fairing may be simply down to aerodynamic considerations. These aircraft also have several other lumps and bumps that are unique to them and for which the exact purpose is unclear, although an esm role is likely.

The two aircraft were converted in the UK at Marshall Aerospace’s Cambridge facility and have been undergoing flight testing at the company’s same Cambridge airport base. The Global Express is proving a popular airframe for this type of conversion as, apart from the UK Sentinel, it also provides the basis for the SAAB GlobalEye and the US Northrop Grumman E-11A. It must be highly unlikely these airframes will appear in the UK again once they have entered operation service.

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