An A321XLR launch?

The graphic on the A321LR test aircraft D-AVZO (msn 7877) illustrates this A321neo subvariant’s range capability, but Airbus could be set to launch a further derivative with even longer range.
Airbus

With the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget coming up in June, there is speculation Airbus might use this year’s largest international aerospace exhibition to launch formally an even longer-range variant of the A321neo, dubbed the A321XLR.

The A321LR, which entered service late in 2018, currently flies further than any other Airbus single-aisle airliner, its 4,000 nautical miles (7,408km) range comparing to the 3,500 nautical miles (6,500km) range of the baseline A320neo variant.

However, Airbus’ Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer recently said customers want more. In his first interview since taking on the role last year, Scherer told Reuters: “We are selling increased range on the A321. People are telling us, ‘This is a great module, give me more range’. [We say,] ‘We will give you the maximum range we can on the A321: how many would you like?’

That is what we are doing.”

Some reports say Airbus has already signed up customers for the A321XLR, although it has yet to be launched publicly. Recent reports say United Airlines and IndiGo are among the carriers considering the new variant, while Icelandair’s Q1 results suggest it is evaluating the A321LR and A321XLR to replace its ageing Boeing 757s.

The A321LR is a longer-range and higher-payload development of the A321neo seating 206 passengers two-class or 244 single-class, designed to enable airlines to open new long-range routes and offer a more efficient midsize platform.

The lessors AerCap and Air Lease Corporation and the airlines JetBlue, Aer Lingus, Norwegian and TAP Portugal are among A321LR buyers; Israeli carrier Arkia Airlines became the first operator in November 2018, following European Aviation Safety Agency and US Federal Aviation Administration certification.

TAP became the second operator in April 2019 when it received the first of 12 on order, putting the aircraft to use on its Lisbon-Tel Aviv route. As reported in the Commercial News in this issue, Air Transat has also recently received the aircraft and JetBlue plans to use the variant to open new transatlantic routes.

Airbus had sold 2,318 A321neos by the start of May, by which time 166 were in service. The sizeable in-service fleet reflects demand for larger single-aisle commercial aircraft offering twin-engine efficiency, plentiful seat capacity and good range. Airbus says the A321LR can serve city pairs such as New York–Paris, Tokyo–Kuala Lumpur, Singapore–Sydney and Dubai–Beijing.

Mystery Diamonds for Ethiopia

Two Diamond DA20NG training aircraft, ET-AWT and ET-AWU, were seen passing through Crete in Ethiopian Airlines livery on April 10. The airline’s training academy in Addis Ababa is known to fly 16 of the type, but the machines seen in Crete were not among those. No orders for additional machines have been announced and neither the Ethiopians nor Diamond aircraft was prepared to comment. Jerry Gunner

Afghan Air Force AC-208s in Crete

Three Northrop Grumman AC-208 Eliminator special mission aircraft passed through Heraklion Airport, Crete, on their delivery flights to Afghanistan on April 10, 2019. The aircraft, N162EL (c/n 208B-5410), N262EL (c/n 208B-5411) and N263EL (c/n 208B-5414), had their Afghan Air Force markings painted out. They had spent several days on their journey from the United States routing via Bermuda, Lajes in the Azores and Jerez, Spain. They continued their journey east on April 12. Orbital ATK, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded an $86.4 million firm fixed-price contract on March 13, 2018, to convert basic Cessna Caravans counter insurgency and reconnaissance aircraft capable of using the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. Jerry Gunner

High hopes for the HAWK30

The first picture of the HAWK30 system developed by HAPSMobile.
AeroVironment Inc

A new high-altitude longendurance (HALE) unmanned vehicle called the HAWK30 has been rolled out by its developers HAPSMobile. The system is designed to give unparalleled persistent widearea telecommunications and other types of connectivity from high altitude.

HAPSMobile is a joint venture between AeroVironment and the Japanese company SoftBank. HAPS is a widely used acronym that stands for High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellite or High-Altitude Platform Station, describing a new breed of ultra-high-flying, ultra-longendurance vehicles either flying or in development.

AeroVironment, which designed, developed and built the HAWK30 for the HAPSMobile joint venture at its HAPS Innovation Center, said the vehicle was designed, developed and assembled in only two years and that the aircraft’s roll-out opened a new demonstration phase of the programme. The company’s President and Chief Executive Officer Wahid Nawabi added the HAWK30 is, “the result of decades of experience developing and flying solar HAPS”.

The HAWK30 has a 256ft (78m) wingspan and has ten electric motors powered by solar panels covering the surface of the wing, resulting in zero emissions.

An AeroVironment statement said: “Flying at an altitude of approximately 65,000ft above sea level and above the clouds, the HAWK30 is designed for continuous, extended missions of months without landing.”

The company believes the HAWK30 offers, “the promise of a new era for global connectivity”.

Sitting high in the stratosphere, HAPSMobile said the system, “can be operated like telecommunication base stations to deliver connectivity across wide areas”. SoftBank intends to use the HAWK30 to “build stable internet connection environments” at unserved locations, such as mountainous terrain, remote islands and developing countries.

HAPSMobile added: “By efficiently interconnecting with current telecommunication networks, SoftBank will be able to realise wide-area connectivity that spans both the sky and the ground to enable drone utilisation, as well as contribute to the adoption of Internet of Things and 5G. Since HAPS can provide stable telecommunications networks without being affected by situations on the ground, the technology is also expected to help assist rescue and recovery efforts during times of disasters.”

Nawabi added: “We are making great progress on this programme and look forward to sharing future achievements with our shareholders and potential customers. We are excited to debut our next-generation HAPS as we advance this strategically important project for HAPSMobile and for AeroVironment.”

Read more about the HALE segment in the Back Pages section of this issue. Mark Broadbent

New life for RAF TriStars

TriStar Air of Newport News, Virginia, was awarded a $121,425,707 indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity task order contract for aerial refuelling services in support of the Department of the Navy, other Department of Defense agencies, and Foreign Military Sales customers on April 18.

TriStar Air is a subsidiary of Tempus Applied Solutions (TAS), which announced in March 2018 that it had acquired six former Royal Air Force Lockheed TriStars from the UK Ministry of Defence. Of the six aircraft four were configured as aerial tankers and the other two as transport aircraft fitted with a large cargo door.

All six were entered on the US civil register on May 12, 2014 as being registered to Palos Verdes Estates, California: TriStar KC1s ZD948, ZD950 and ZD953 became N304CS, N405CS and N705CS respectively. TriStar K1 ZD951 became N309CS. Each of those was fitted with a hose and drogue refuelling system when in Royal Air Force service. Two TriStar C2s, ZE704 and ZE705 became N507CS and N703CS. Both are configured for passenger and cargo operations. The aircraft have been stored at Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire, UK since their retirement from the Royal Air Force. On April 3, 2018 they were all registered to TriStar Air.

In the first instance TriStar Air plans to use three of the aircraft to provide urgent airlift and airto-air refuelling services to United States and other NATO countries. The other three are reported to be intended to be used for spare parts reclamation.

TriStars served the RAF for nearly 30 years. The aircraft, which started their lives as civilian airliners, were converted by Marshall Aerospace in the mid-1980s.

F-16 production line opens in South Carolina

F-16 tooling and equipment previously in use at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas plant has been moved across the country to a newly refurbished hangar in Greenville, South Carolina. Later this year the company will begin manufacturing Block 70 F-16 aircraft at the new plant.

Air Force Plant No 4, the official name of the Fort Worth facility, will henceforth be given over purely to the F-35 production effort.

Although, with the advent of the F-35 and its increasing affordability, orders for the F-16 have slackened off, there is and is expected to be continued demand for the most modern version of the veteran jet.

Lockheed sees it as particularly suitable for nations requiring a smaller fleet of fast-jets capable of fulfilling a wide-spectrum of roles.

The US State Department approved the sale of 25 new Block 72 F-16 aircraft to Morocco in March 2019 along with upgrades for the country’s existing fleet of 23 Block 52 F-16s to Block 52 F-16V configuration.

Bahrain became the first Block 70 F-16V customer in June 2018 and Slovakia signed a letter of agreement in December 2018 for 14 similar jets. Lockheed Martin is pitching the F-16V for other nations including Bulgaria.

Lockheed says more than 400 new jobs will be created to support the F-16 production line in Greenville as well as hundreds more in the supply chain.

According to Lockheed Martin, Block 70 and Block 72 F-16s will be equipped with Northrop Grumman’s APG-83 advanced active electronically scanned array radar, a new avionics architecture, an advanced datalink, an auto ground collision avoidance system, and structural upgrades to extend the structural life of the aircraft by more than 50% beyond that of previous production F-16 aircraft.

MAGMA demo

The MAGMA vehicle on the ground at Llanbedr in North Wales, from where its fluidic thrust vectoring and wing circulation control technologies were trialled.
BAE Systems

An unmanned vehicle has successfully demonstrated new flight control technologies during recent trials at Llanbedr Airfield in North Wales.

The MAGMA system, designed and developed by researchers at the University of Manchester in collaboration with BAE Systems, tested two flap-free flow control technologies that its developers say, “could revolutionise future aircraft design”.

The MAGMA vehicle does not have any moving flight control surfaces such as ailerons and flaps. Instead, it uses blownair technologies, consisting of fluidic thrust vectoring and wing circulation control. Fluidic thrust vectoring involves jets inside the engine nozzle deflecting the exhaust to generate a control force. Wing circulation control involves directing air from the engine and blowing it supersonically through narrow slots in the wing trailing edge to provide control.

Bill Crowther from the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester, leader of the MAGMA project, said: “The partnership with BAE Systems has allowed us the freedom as a university to focus on research adventure, with BAE Systems providing the pathway to industrial application. We made our first fluidic thrust vectoring nozzle from glued together bits of plastic and tested it on a hairdryer fan nearly 20 years ago. Today, BAE Systems is 3D printing our components out of titanium and we are flight testing them on the back of a jet engine in an aircraft designed and built by the project team. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

BAE Systems said data from the Llanbedr trial, “will be used to inform future research programmes” and that it has “paved the way for engineers to create better-performing aircraft that are lighter, more reliable and cheaper to operate. The technologies could also improve an aircraft’s stealth, as they reduce the number of gaps and edges that currently make aircraft more observable on radar.”

The company said the technology MAGMA has demonstrated could be applied to the development of a Future Combat Air System, adding: “Other technologies to improve aircraft performance are being explored in collaboration with NATO Science and Technology Organisation.”

MAGMA is not the only recent example of joint research between BAE Systems and academia. In another initiative using a UAV demonstrator, the company and universities have worked together testing a small system called Juno, which uses the highly advanced material graphene (see Back Pages, this issue). Mark Broadbent

Turkish F-35 row – Russia offers Su-57

The rift between the United States and Turkey arising from the latter’s decision to acquire the Russian S-400 Triumf mobile air defence system seems to be growing wider – and now Russia has stuck its oar in.

In 2018, US Congress agitated to halt sales of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning IIs to NATO ally Turkey because of Ankara’s announcement it was to buy the Russian-made missile system. The objection, ostensibly at least, was that Russian technicians would be employed by the Turks to operate the weapons. The fear was that those technicians would be well placed to steal the secrets of the F-35 and give them to their masters in Moscow.

In 2002, Turkey became the seventh nation to join the multinational effort to produce the fifth-generation jets as one of five Level 3 partners in the programme. After making an initial investment of $195 million, Turkey has ordered 100 F-35As, many of which will be assembled domestically by Turkish Aircraft Industries, which is already producing parts for Lightning IIs for other nations.

Turkey’s withdrawal from the programme seems likely, because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is intent on going ahead with the S-400 purchase. As the crisis developed, the United States reversed its long-held determination not to provide Turkey with its Patriot system.

However, in late February, Turkey rejected an offer of one system to be delivered before the end of 2019 with more to come, even though the US State Department says the deal would have been cheaper than buying S-400 and came with greater technology transfer benefits. The first S-400 is scheduled to be delivered in July 2019.

Some Turkish F-35As are already flying with the F-35 international training school at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona; a permanent embargo could be disastrous for both sides.

The aircraft themselves could be held back in the United States for years or sold to other customers. Perhaps more importantly, the position of Turkey in the supply chain is not clear. If Turkey is expelled from the programme altogether, the loss to Turkish industry could be measured in billions of dollars and worldwide production of the aircraft would suffer.

Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industries says the country has supplied more than $700 million in parts and services so far.

Meanwhile in America, the House of Representatives announced the proposed ‘Protecting NATO Skies Act of 2019’ on May 3. Together with similar legislation already making its way through the House, the act seeks to make the embargo permanent. A lot of work is being done behind the scenes to find a replacement for Turkey.

Enter the Kremlin. Also on May 3, Sergey Chemezov, the head of Rostec, the company that brokered the Turkish S-400 deal, announced Russia would be open to a deal whereby the Turks could build the Sukhoi Su-57 Frazor for its air force, should the F-35 deal fall through. This would, of course, be seen as a huge coup for Russia, but Turkey would be the loser. The Frazor has not been a huge success and the Russians have committed themselves to just 12 new aircraft. Its major partner in the project, India, pulled out last year.

The quarrel is symptomatic of what is seen by many observers as Turkey’s drift into Russia’s sphere of influence and that could have greater consequences still. The Pentagon deploys nuclear weapons to its base at Incirlik, Turkey, and Erdoğan has threatened to kick out America. With his rhetoric increasingly anti-US a lot is at stake.

CQ-24A K-MAX helicopters return to flight

Kaman Aerospace has been awarded a contract to return two United States Marine Corps CQ-24A K-MAX aircraft to flight operations fitted with the latest autonomous technology. Kaman Aerospace will transport the two helicopters from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, where they are currently located, to Bloomfield, Connecticut, where they will be reactivated to flight-ready status.

The two helicopters served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom from 2011 to 2013.

In a 33-month period the two CQ-24As flew combat resupply and logistical support missions moving over 4.5 million pounds of cargo throughout Afghanistan between forward operating bases and remote outposts. Operating exclusively during nighttime hours, the unmanned missions replaced the equivalent of 900 convoys and eliminated 46,000 hours of exposure to IEDs, direct fire and other threats to troops on dangerous roads.

Ahrlac in business rescue

The continuation of production and development of the Advanced Highperformance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft is in doubt after financial problems led to shutting the factory in January.
Guy Martin

The future of the Ahrlac (Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft) is in doubt, with the Aerospace Development Corporation (ADC) entering into business rescue.

ADC, in which Paramount Group has a 50% stake, is developing the aircraft and the armed Mwari version. Paramount Aerospace Holdings said it had been in talks with ADC for five months before negotiations broke down (the Ahrlac factory has been shut since January and some suppliers not paid from late 2018). Paramount applied for business rescue on February 28, 2019. After resisting this move, ADC agreed to voluntarily commence the process on March 20. A practitioner from PricewaterhouseCoopers has been appointed to bring ADC back to financial sustainability.

Business rescue documents state that ADC: “is financially distressed in that it appears to be reasonably unlikely the company will be able to pay all of its debts as they become due and payable within the immediately ensuing six months.” The reason is said to be: “due to a dispute raised with a third-party licensor, which has resulted in the cessation of loan funding. Furthermore, the company has faced delays in completing the first two aircraft on order, which are a pre-requisite for the activation of further aircraft orders. This has adversely affected the company’s cashflow and has therefore caused the company to become financially distressed.”

ADC also stated that Paramount had defaulted on the payments to production aircraft 3 and had made late and slow payments for aircraft 1 and 2. The third-party licensor is believed to be the launch customer, on whose behalf Paramount has placed an initial order. Paramount is in effect the launch customer as it will accept the aircraft before passing them on to the eventual end-user.

ADC said the majority of its board believes there is a “reasonable prospect” of rescuing the group in that Paramount is prepared, on business rescue proceedings commencing, to provide additional funding.

Paramount earlier said it had invested hundreds of millions of rands in the project and remained dedicated to supporting the programme and seeing it through to fruition. “We are therefore fully committed to the business rescue process,” the company said.

ADC has subsidiaries which include the Aerosud Innovation Centre (engineering design and development services), Ahrlac (aircraft production); ADC Aeroswift (laser additive manufacturing); ADC Surveillance Systems (Ahrlac mission and payload installations); Mwari (an inactive shell company to manage weapon systems); and ADC Logistics (maintenance, overhaul and logistics). Most of these subsidiaries were placed under business rescue in April. Guy Martin

New Greek trainers

The last three of 12 Tecnam P2002JF basic trainer aircraft for the Hellenic Air Force arrived at their new base, Tatoi-Dekelia near Athens, on April 5, 2019, five months after the delivery of the first batch. The aircraft, along with a SOFTEK simulator and a computer-based integrated training system were ordered in July 2018. In the first instance the P2002JFs will augment Cessna T-41Ds with 360 Mira Ekpedefsis Aeros (Air Training Squadron). Jens Schymura