Royal Air Force Sentinel R.1 ZJ692, aircraft No. 3, takes off from the Mojave Spaceport, USA, in 2007 (Image (CC) Alan Radecki Akradecki)

British spyplane flies on, upgrades in sight

Royal Air Force Sentinel R.1 ZJ692, aircraft No. 3, takes off from the Mojave Spaceport, USA, in 2007 (Image (CC) Alan Radecki Akradecki)
Royal Air Force Sentinel R.1 ZJ692, aircraft No. 3, takes off from the Mojave Spaceport, USA, in 2007
(Image (CC) Alan Radecki Akradecki)

The Royal Air Force Raytheon/Bombardier Sentinal R.1 surveillance aircraft will soldier on. The RAF confirmed continuation of operations with this Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) in the second week of July 2014 at the Farnborough Airshow.

With the “spyplane” – as this type of aircraft is popularly called by the general public – flying further until at least 2018, the RAF is now keen to make the Sentinel more capable than it is now. Not only are modernisation of the SIGINT and optical reconnaissance on the agenda, the Royal Air Force hopes the ASTOR could be modified to make it more useful as a maritime surveillance aircraft as well.

After completion of its operation in Afghanistan, the Sentinal R.1 was supposed to be withdrawn from service in order to save money, causing a huge gap in the British military intelligence gathering and surveillance possibilities. However, the British government came back on its decision this year and wants the RAF to keep the aircraft – a Bombardier Global Express modified by Raytheon – for at least four more years.

That’s great news for the UK’s armed forces which already saw the cancellation a few years ago of the long expected Nimrod MRA4. But not all has been bad as on 12 November 2013 the first of three RAF Boeing RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft arrived at RAF Waddington.

The Sentinel R.1 is operation by a crew of five, has a range of 5,800 miles (9,250 km), a service ceiling of 49,000 feet and can stay airborne for 9 hours. All five Sentinel R.1 fly with the 34 Expeditionary Air Wing based at RAF Waddington, divided over 5(AC) Squadron, 54(R) Squadron and 56(R) Squadron.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

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The BAe Systems Nimrod MRA4 prototype during the 2007 RIAT at RAF Fairford. The project was later scrapped (Image © Marcel Burger)
The BAe Systems Nimrod MRA4 prototype during the 2007 RIAT at RAF Fairford. The project was later scrapped.
(Image © Marcel Burger)