The US Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) has taken delivery of a customised Fairchild Swearingen C-26A Metroliner modified to serve as a next generation of flying classroom for students.
Known as the Airborne Systems Training and Research Support (ASTARS) III, the aircraft was handed over to the USNTPS on 29 June at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River following modification by M7 Aerospace, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems of America.
The C-26A became available to the USNTPS in late 2015 after being retired from conducting counter-narcotics missions along the Mexican border. According to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), the aircraft “arrived with minimal documentation and maintenance records requiring extensive work in order to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards”. In addition, the C-26A “required unique modifications to meet the school’s flying classroom requirements for future curriculum”.
In May 2016 M7 Aerospace was awarded a USD7.5 million firm fixed-price contract by the US Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Tactical Airlift, Adversary and Support Aircraft programme office (PMA-207) to convert the C-26A aircraft to ASTARS III standard. As well as installing an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance payload upgrade, M7 also integrated a Leonardo Vixen 500E active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar in place of the legacy weather radar.
Aircraft modification work was undertaken at M7 Aerospace’s facility in San Antonio, Texas. Representatives from USNTPS, PMA-207 and NAWCAD’s own AIRWorks rapid prototyping and production team worked alongside M7 Aerospace to deliver the modification programme, so reducing the programme timescale while maintaining the aircraft’s configuration control.
ASTARS III is the third generation of flying classroom for the USNTPS curriculum. It will replace ASTARS II – a leased modified Saab 340 – which comes off contract later in 2018.
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