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.
Based on a Global Express business jet, the RAF’s Sentinel battlefield surveillance jet has plenty of lumps and bumps to distinguish it but the paint scheme is a different story. It is painted plain gray and, aside from one example I saw at Red Flag, it doesn’t have any interesting squadron markings. The Friday of RIAT was a very wet a dreary day but this had the effect of making the Sentinel look rather glossy. I have never seen them look too interesting before (aside from Red Flag) but this looked okay. I did shoot it departing too on an overcast day and it didn’t look too bad then so maybe this one was fresh out of the paint shop?
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.