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Perth s peek at ultimate spy plane
Flight Lieutenant David Des Jardins, an Air Combat Officer, on the Wedgetail aircraft. Picture: RAAF

It is the ultimate spy in the sky. A $600 million plane that James Bond would love, and this weekend Perth aviation lovers can get up close to it and all its gadgetry.

The plane itself, a converted 150-seat Boeing 737-700, cost $70 million - small change compared with the $530 million for its array of radars, sensors and support equipment.

For that money, the Royal Australian Air Force gets the world's most sophisticated surveillance platform, the Boeing Wedgetail, which can track 3000 targets simultaneously up to 400km away.

And that is just the start of its capabilities.

Gerard Frawley, editor and publisher of Australian Aviation, said the planes multiply the effectiveness of the RAAF's F/A-18 Hornet fighters and Super Hornets.

Whatever the Wedgetail's radar sees can be sent via data link to a display in the fighter's cockpit.

"This effectively allows them to see something at like four times the distance and critically it enables the fighter pilots to leave their radars off until the last minute before engaging any enemy," Frawley said.

The Wedgetail has two pilots and 10 multi-role mission specialists.

Frawley says the Wedgetail puts Australia's defence force in a unique position.

"The Wedgetail is state of the art and only the US and a handful of other countries have a capability that rivals it," he said.

To defend itself, the Wedgetail has the countermeasures dispenser system that warns the crew and protects the plane from attack using metallic chaff to confuse radar-guided rockets and flares for heat-seeking missiles.

Failing that, in true James Bond style, there is the back-up plan called the direct infrared countermeasure, an automatic system that fires a laser to destroy missiles.

This weekend at the Defence Force air show at Pearce, the public can see the Wedgetail, though it will not fly.

It is part of the biggest RAAF display of planes in Perth in decades.

The show is being supported by the US Air Force, which is flying in a giant eight-engine B-52 from Guam each day for two fly-bys.

Another highlight will be the RAAF's latest frontline bomber, the Boeing Super Hornet.

The Roulettes, Hawk jet trainers and the F-18s will also stage aerobatic displays.

And the public will be much closer to the action than at pervious shows.

A map with full details can be seen at <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.thewest.com.au">www.thewest.com.au </a>