Weaponizing crop dusters

Click to EnlargePosted by John McHale
PARIS AIR SHOW BLOG, 20 June 2011. Weaponizing crop dusters . . . yeah I know I wish I'd thought of it too, but engineers at Moog Inc. and Air Tractor beat us to it when they added weapons to the Air Tractor AT-802U single engine turboprop aircraft. No longer spraying chemicals, this lethal aircraft now has precision strike capability with bombs and guns. It is part of the static display at the Paris Air Show this week.

Moog added the weapons and stores management system to control the weapons from a control panel video screen located on the right hand side of the cockpit flight deck, says Jim Riedel, business unit director at Moog in Orlando, Fla.
Essentially the pilot sees the threat through the targeting pod from an L-3 Wescam MX-15 located underneath the nose and uses it to laser range find the target, Riedel says. The geo-location of the target is grabbed by the stores computer and when the pilot is an acceptable position he hits the "red pickle button" and the information is downloaded to the missile, its wings come out and it flies out to its target, he explains.
The stores system uses commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics that has gone through rigorous testing, Riedel says. He declined to name specific COTS components in the system however.
It can be used as a border protection and fight in close or from as far away as 25 nautical miles at 17,000 feet, Riedel says.
The Moog-developed missile is currently undergoing test trials and is not yet in production, but the stores management system is being produced with several systems already sold. Moog partnered with Air Tractor to develop the system based a need they perceived. They funded it themselves, which Riedel says is a trend in the industry. As there are fewer funding dollars being spent on new programs, integrators and manufacturers need to be creative and come up with ways to fill needs the military user didn't know he had, he explains.
Where the Moog/Air Tractor system can come in handy is in border protection or areas where it is essential combat aircraft maintain long hours on station, Riedel says. This aircraft can stay on station for as long as 10 hours and is low-maintenance, he adds.
"It can do nearly everything an Apache helicopter can do except take off and land vertically and is lower cost and stays longer on station" than the Army attack helicopter, says Mike Rhodes, production and experimental flight test pilot at Air Tractor in Olney, Texas.
The aircraft also has a brand new glass cockpit, Rhodes says. It is a Garmin 600 and the first Air Tractor to get a glass cockpit, he adds. Air Tractors are simple airplanes with basic equipment such as radios to talk to each other, and require low maintenance which is another reason why they would be perfect for this type of military mission, he adds.
Its low maintenance and the fact that "we've already certified the system," makes it very cost-efficient, Rhodes says.


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