Britten Norman Islander / Defender
Designed back in the early 1960ís the Britten-Norman Islander has proved to be a versatile and popular aircraft with over 1,230 examples of the basic model and various derivatives having been sold. Unfortunately various financial troubles over the years inhibited the development of the Islander; however, in April 2000 after yet another final crisis, two Omani brothers purchased the business and assets from the receiver and formed the B-N Group to continue marketing the aircraft.
A military version of the Islander, known as the Defender, was first flown in 1971 and was based on the BN-2B version with under-wing hard points and other equipment for light troop transport and ground support roles. In 1989 the British Army Air Corps ordered five BN-2T Turbine Islanders to replace their DHC-2 Beavers. These aircraft were fitted with surveillance equipment and operated out of Aldergrove in Northern Island in support of UK forces engaged in counter-terrorist operations. The three aircraft were fitted with AN/ALQ-144 jamming pod, a Lockheed Martin IRCM suite and a recce fit which included a door-mounted Zeiss 610 camera, a vertical Zeiss Trilens 80 mm and a second vertical camera fit, consisting of an F126, or a Zeiss RMK or two KS-153 cameras, or a Vinten F143 panoramic camera. Two additional Defenders were added to the Army Air Corps fleet in 1990 and with and extensive communications and COMINT fit, these seven these aircraft proved invaluable.
The most unusual looking BN-2T Islander was ZG989 which was modified in 1984 as part of the British Army Corps Airborne Stand-Off Radar) CASTOR programme to carry a large radar in a nose radome. However, the limited performance of the aircraft restricted itís capabilities and the programme eventually evolved into the current Sentinel R1 which is about to enter service with the RAF. After a number of years in storage, the aircraft was sighted in February 2006 flying again in an Army Air Corps paint scheme, although it is not known what equipment the aircraft was carrying.
An AEW Defender, fitted with a Thorn EMI Skymaster radar was later marketed and appeared at a number of airshows. The fuselage was fitted with two operators consoles equipped with 14in colour displays and from 10,000ft the radar had an effective range of around 100nm. Despite appearing to offer an affordable capability at an economic price, once again the limited performance of the aircraft convinced those interested in acquiring an AEW system to look elsewhere and when no buyers appeared, the project was dropped.
In 2003, as UK forces began attempting to stabilise the situation in Iraq, an urgent operational requirement was raised for the purchase of three Defenders under a £10 million contract. These aircraft, known as the Defender 4S AL Mk1, were fitted with two under-wing defensive aids dispensers, as well as an electro-optical turret under the nose. Various cameras are also mounted in the cabin and look out through the floor of the aircraft. From the number of external aerials, I would also imagine these aircraft are also fitted with a COMNIT system and an IRCM suite. The first aircraft was delivered just nine months after the contract was let and they are normally based at Basra.
The current military version of the Islander is known as the Defender 4000 is powered by two 400shp Rolls-Royce 250-17F/1 turboprops and has a maximum take-off weight of 8,500lbs. At the 2006 Farnborough static park was a BN-2A Islander fitted out for maritime reconnaissance with a Titan 385 electro-optical turret in the nose, housing a low-light TV system. Two under wing pods house four Skyguardian 2000 antennas, referred to as the Passive Localiser System (PALS) under development by SELEX. The cabin houses various displays on two operatorís consoles. This system, integrated onto a Defender 4000, has been developed to meet an Iraqi Air Force requirement for up to 24 surveillance aircraft.
The RAF operate two Marks of Islander, they are known as a CC.2 (ZH536) and a CC.2A (ZF573) and form the Station Flight at RAF Northolt near London. These two aircraft are flown in a classified surveillance role, aimed at picking up communications between individuals judged as posing a threat to the UK.