Wedgetail Wins FAA Certification

By Guy Norris

SEATTLE — Boeing’s 737-based airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft has received its supplemental-type certification (STC) from FAA, marking the first time one of the company’s larger battle management platforms has received this commercial approval rating.

“It’s a big milestone for us,” Boeing AEW&C business development senior manager Egan Greenstein says. The STC, received May 11, is an amendment to the 737-700IGW (increased gross weight) certification and means the substantially modified aircraft meets all FAA standard airworthiness requirements.

Approval also means pursuing international sales and deliveries will be considerably easier, and comes as Boeing awaits the outcome of an independent study into the aircraft’s Northrop Grumman-developed multirole electronically-scanned array (MESA) radar. Commissioned by the Australian government, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory study is evaluating the baseline architecture of the MESA surveillance system and its abilities.

The report was prompted by a series of long-running delays to the program, which was launched with a development contract in 2000 by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for its Wedgetail AEW requirement. The first pair of six Wedgetail 737s are now slated for delivery in November, roughly three years later than originally planned.

If the study returns a negative verdict, Australian reports suggest this could give the RAAF a legitimate reason to cancel the program. But Greenstein expresses confidence and notes significant re-engineering two years ago. “We feel confident about our foundation, and that we’re on the right path, and that there are no weaknesses in the system,” he says. “We have been implementing fixes to improve performance.”

Boeing is currently working through acceptance tests on the radar and continues to introduce periodic software drops as the program moves toward first deliveries. “Any changes we’re doing now are minor fixes,” Greenstein says, adding that the early development phase faced issues with radar tracking and integration. “In 2000, when we started, the maturity of the radar system was not as far along as we’d have hoped,” he concedes.

Boeing and the RAAF also are working through initial data collected from the aircraft’s first realistic operating exercise. Wedgetails took part in a military operational utility demonstration called Arnhem Thunder from late April to last week, based out of Darwin in the Northern Territories. Working with air, ground and sea forces, the aircraft’s crew controlled multiple engagements over six sorties.

Developmental test and evaluation work also is under way on the first of four Turkish Peace Eagle AEW&C aircraft at Boeing Field. Deliveries of the Turkish aircraft are expected to begin in 2010, while the first of four South Korean Peace Eyes are due to enter service in 2011. The remaining three Korean aircraft are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2012. Negotiations, meanwhile, continue with the United Arab Emirates over the potential sale of from two to four AEW&C aircraft, while Boeing has also responded to a request for information from India.

Photo: Boeing

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