On two previous occasions, the RAF’s Sentinel fleet has made an appearance on this blog. The most recent was for a damp example at RIAT that was in this post. The Sentinel fleet has spent a number of years under threat of retirement. It is a small fleet and it is custom made so it will have very high sustainment costs. Also, it provides a role principally in support of the Army so I imagine it isn’t the highest priority for some of the RAF upper echelons.
Previous reports of its retirement have been followed up with a reprieve. However, the MOD in the UK has just issued a request for proposals (RFP) for companies to come and dismantle the aircraft (along with a pair of E-3D Sentrys). This looks like it is really going to happen. The RFP states that the aircraft are not for reuse and that the selected contractor will disassemble them on site at RAF Waddington. Not only is the RAF not going to use them but they are making sure no one else does.
Various bits of information have flowed around about them. There is a suggestion that obsolescence issues mean a lot of equipment needs to be replaced. Since that will be a custom process, it will be an expensive thing to do and, with the axe having been hanging over them for a number of years, spending a lot of money on them if they might not be around for much longer just doesn’t seem likely. Maybe there are other issues too.
I’ve had a soft spot for V Sqn from the Lightning and Tornado F3 days. Seeing it move from a fast jet to a bizjet derivative was a bit odd but at least it survived while so many other squadrons disappeared. I wonder whether it will surface again. Maybe an F-35B unit at some point? We shall see. My best interaction with the Sentinels was on a Red Flag when I got to shoot them in some great light. Farewell you oddball.
Returning from Whidbey with Paul, we stopped off at Paine Field to see what might be moving. There was a bit of frustration with a delayed departure that we couldn’t catch but we got a few bits and pieces and that included a Global 6000. This one popped up on approach just as the sun was reappearing from behind the clouds so we could get some nice light on it as it crossed the threshold and touched down.
Within the space of a few minutes, two Bombardier Global Expresses took off from Boeing Field. This type is a regular feature at BFI so this is not unusual. What did catch my eye was that they appeared to have the same color scheme. If they were NetJets aircraft, that would make sense. However, they didn’t look like a fleet operator I know (not that I know them all). Is this just a standard scheme that Bombardier will finish the jet in if you don’t have a preference or were they connected? If so, was a group of people taking two jets at the same time to go to the same place? Who knows?
I don’t know whether the timing was favorable or whether there is just a lot of traffic but I saw quite a few corporate jets on the move at Tucson during my short time shooting there. Corporate stuff is always a nice break from the regular airline traffic although it can be harder to shoot. The jets are usually smaller and the bigger ones are often performing well within their capabilities so get airborne really quickly and are way too high by the time they get to you.
Even so, we did okay. A couple of Hawkers were heading out and I was particularly pleased to get a Global Express. It did look a touch anonymous but maybe I can pretend that means there is an interesting story behind it.
I really do appreciate an aircraft that looks elegant. One such type is the Bombardier Global Express. Built to take on the Gulfstream family, it is a great looking plane with a graceful front fuselage, cracking looking wing and even the empennage is stylishly done. Therefore, you might be forgiven for thinking that I was not impressed when Raytheon took a great looking plane and grafted on some enormous lumps and bumps to create the Sentinel.
Built for Britain’s Royal Air Force, the Sentinel is a battlefield surveillance aircraft in the mold of the USAF JSTARS program but a generation on a bit more compact. It also makes use of a more modern airframe as its starting point. While the changes have not done anything to make the plane look pretty, I do have a soft spot for unusual aircraft configurations and large radomes and sitcom covers fit with this idea. Consequently, I rather like the Sentinel. Seeing them in action at Red Flag was a nice opportunity.
Having spent a lot of money on the Sentinel, the UK government announced that, with the reduction in involvement in Afghanistan, the Sentinels would be retired. Retirement sounds inappropriate for something so new but that was the story. Fortunately, it appears that the plan has been adjusted and they have been reprieved for now. We shall see how that develops.
The aircraft are operated by 5 (AC) Squadron of the RAF. 5 Sqn was one of the early Tornado ADV squadrons when it converted to Lightnings. I liked their colors with the maple leaf on a red background. When I worked at Warton, one side project I got involved with was the repainting of a restored Lightning in 5 Sqn colors before it was put on display. Having the Sentinels showing up from 5 Sqn was nice, not least because one of the two jets had the squadron colors displayed over the usual dull grey finish. Both aircraft flew while I was there both day and night. They are an unusual sight to see so it was good to catch them at work.
I was back in Seattle recently and, while the reason for being there took up the majority of my time, I did have a couple of opportunities at the end of the days to pay a visit to Boeing Field. I had been there last year and made the best of the nice light later in the day then. This time, the light looked good but proved to be a bit fickle and the day was not as long given the time of year. However, I did get an interesting selection of aircraft to shoot. Boeing Field is a popular location for business aviation given its close proximity to Seattle city center. There were some very nice large jets visiting. An Airbus ACJ from Germany was parked up the entire time I was there but I never saw it move. However, I did get to see some Globals and Gulfstreams stretch their legs.
The Global Express is a great looking business jet. One arrived shortly after I did and I managed to get it as it came in. I was at a spot I hadn’t tried before. It gives a better angle on the aircraft as they approach and touch down but it does suffer from a more cluttered background which is a shame. The Global looked like it was heading out again as I got ready to leave for the evening so I decided to go to the departure end of the runway and try and get it head on. By now the light was really going but I ramped up the ISO and decided to go for it anyway. Having Mount Rainier in the background certainly doesn’t harm a shot but it was really a bit too dark.
The other nice visitor was a G650. The newest of the big Gulfstreams is a significant improvement from an aesthetic point of view as far as I am concerned. This one had a great paint scheme too so I was very happy to see it. The runway direction was changed just before it left so I got to see it as it was airborne rather than on the takeoff roll which was nice.
Throw in some Dassault Falcons and I had a lucky run given how limited the time was that I had there. Hopefully I will be back again sometime soon.