Westinghouse Touts Its High-tech Surveillance Plane

Firm Hopes Customs Service Will Buy Craft To Fight Drugs

April 14, 1992|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Staff writer

Westinghouse is hoping to sell its recently developed surveillance airplane equipped with military and commercial technology to the U.S. Customs Service for use in drug interdiction efforts.

The electronics giant took Carol Hallett, Customs Service commissioner, aloft in the modified light utility transport plane yesterday. Reporters on the ground followed the flight on a screen at the company's plant at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Hallett would not say during a press conference at a corporate hangar whether her agency plans to buy the plane. But Westinghouse officials conceded that she wouldn't have taken the flight had they not been negotiating with customs officials.

The plane, called Multi-sensor Surveillance Aircraft, is an Islander built by Pilattus Britten Norman, of Arlington, Va., and modified to accommodate Westinghouse'sradar and electronics system.

It incorporates "proven, mature technology" already used by the U.S. military, explained F. Michael Langley, manager of the plane program. But it combines those technologiesto provide radar sweeps and infra-red pictures that can pick out boats, other aircraft and vehicles on land. It then tracks the objects and gives precise locations to ground crews.

In addition, it allowsground crews to see what the plane's system is seeing. "It sends (live) pictures back to headquarters," Langley said. "That way, you don't have to wait for the plane to get back to have the information."

A screen in Westinghouse's briefing room displayed the same radar sweep the pilot had on his screen, then lighted up with clear shots of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and boats moving in the bay.

The plane, including the surveillance systems, costs about $8 million. It does many of the same things as the AWACs system, which costs more than $300 million, only on a smaller scale, Langley said.

Westinghouse leased the plane to the Navy last fall for training exercises at Patuxent River, Langley said, and is "in final negotiations with an international customer" that he wouldn't name.

"We're confident we'll be under contract in the near future. And wethink this will have a lot of applications," he said.

Developing the system is part of Westinghouse's efforts to reduce its dependenceon Department of Defense contracts, added Bryan C. Wiggins, manager of commercial systems communications.

In the mid-1980s, nearly 90 percent of the company's contracts were with the military, he said. By last year, that figure had dropped to 30 percent.

"Our goal is to be at 50-50 by 1995," Wiggins said.

Westinghouse has adopted thesame software it uses to track aircraft to provide bus tracking and management systems for transit authorities in Baltimore, Denver and Milwaukee and is "going after Chicago," Wiggins added.

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