Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Dragon to Fight Brush Fires



Dubai Air Show

New Dragon to Fight Brush Fires


A new light aircraft designed for both counterinsurgency (COIN) and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions is about to enter the market. Produced by Ohio-based U.S. Aircraft Corp., the A-67 Dragon is designed to meet the needs of small countries struggling to contain insurgencies.

“Everything about this aircraft is mission-specific,” said Ray Williams, president of U.S. Aircraft. “We consulted with experts and pilots to meet the needs of that mission.”

The company sees the A-67 as a reasonable, cost-effective choice to replace ageing OV-10 Broncos and A-37s now being retired around the world. Without being specific, the company sees about 12 countries in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Middle East as potential customers.

“There are around 60 to 70 insurgencies in the world,” said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Comer, consultant for U.S. Aircraft on government programs. “This is an internal security airplane.”

Comer pointed to the August release of a U.S. government paper, the Irregular Warfare Air Force Doctrine Document, which defined the role of the U.S. in assisting “partner nations” with support and training in COIN, ISR and close-air support to resolve internal challenges. Comer, who served as commander of the 16th Operations Group and 16th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., argued that the A-67 meets these requirements, explaining that operating costs of $500 to 1,000 per flight hour make the aircraft very reasonable for smaller countries dealing with insurgencies.

Williams stated that the $6 million price tag per aircraft with a standard ISR package makes the A-67 irresistible to small countries.

“Weapons are extra due to mission requirements,” Williams said. “The aircraft has five hard points and can carry bombs, rockets and missiles.”

The total weight load is 10,200 pounds and the aircraft can carry 3,600 pounds of payload plus fuel, he said. Fitted with a single Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68 turboprop engine, rated at 1,600 shp, the aircraft can achieve 11 hours of loiter time on target on internal fuel and an air speed ranging from 85 to 370 knots. Two prototypes have been built and a third will be finished in 15 months.

“The first production unit will be built three months after that, then full production,” Williams said. “In the first year, we will be producing two a month then ramp it up to four a month after the first year. This depends on orders and we may modify this schedule.”

Both the canopy and cockpit are armored against small-arms fire. The canopy will add 400 pounds of weight to the aircraft.

“You sacrifice in speed but pilots wanted it,” Williams said.

The ISR capability is made possible using the Star SAFIRE II multi-mission imaging solution produced by FLIR Systems.