Seabird Seeker SB7L-360
With the military crisis in Iraq continuing to degenerate, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is desperate to try and stabilize the volatile situation. One of the most urgent tasks is to ensure that the borders of the country are patrolled by suitably equipped aircraft, to deter the continued influx of terrorists and arms. The CPA recognised their current deficiency in surveillance aircraft and launched a competition to purchase between 8 and 16 surveillance aircraft within an almost impossibly tight timescale.
The specification called for a 2-seater aircraft, equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors that can cruise between 60-80kts over a 5hr mission. To meet this requirement, Schweizer offered their SA 2-37B aircraft, which has a performance very similar to the CPA specification,. However, Schweizer also believed that no company could possibly deliver a sensor equipped aircraft, together with Arabic language training manuals, within 30 days of an order, together with the remaining aircraft within 6 months. Nevertheless, Schweizer remained firm favourites to win the contract, as they were the only American company that had a proven design already flying.
In the event Middle East politics, together with a pragmatic understanding of how acceptable a US aircraft would be conducting this sensitive role, influenced the decision and it was decided to order the Seabird Seeker SB7L-360 to undertake this role. The Seabird Seeker SB7L-360 is the product of a joint Jordanian / Australian venture company established last year at Marka Airport in Amman, Jordan. The original Seeker was designed in Australia back in 1989 and from the outset was planned to be a low-cost observation platform that could offer excellent fixed-wing surveillance capabilities at a much lower cost than a helicopter of similar size. The excellent all-round visibility of the Seeker is accomplished by placing the small de-rated Lycoming 0-360 B2C engine behind the cockpit and above the wing. The Iraqi specification called for a two-seat aircraft, with docile handling characteristics, that was capable of 5 hour sorties whilst carrying electro-optical (EO) and infra-red (IR) cameras whilst providing a live video data link to a ground station.
On 29 Jul 04 at a ceremony in Amman the first two Iraqi Seeker aircraft were handed over to officials, whilst at the same time 8 Iraq pilots and 7 technicians also graduated having completed their training. The first two aircraft, (YI-101 ex JY-SEA and YI-102 ex JY-SEB) will operate from Basra, as the new Aerial Surveillance Squadron, from where they will conduct reconnaissance and surveillance duties to protect oil pipelines and powerlines, as well as border patrols in search of terrorists. The aircraft will be fitted with an advanced EO/IR suite provided by FLIR Systems Inc based on the companies U7500 system, working with a downlink system provided by Broadcast Microwave Services. Currently it is planned that the Aerial Surveillance Squadron will eventually be equipped with a total of 16 aircraft by early 2005 and, rather than being built in Australia, these new aircraft will be built at a new production facility being installed at Ammanís Queen Alia International Airport.