The BAE Phoenix was a fairly typical combat surveillance UAV, powered by a 20 kW (26 hp) piston engine, but is distinctive in that it is a tractor aircraft, with the propeller in the front. This tends to obstruct a sensor turret, and so the sensor payload, built around an infrared imager, was carried in a pod slung well under the fuselage. Phoenix was mostly made of Kevlar and other plastics.
Phoenix was 'zero-length' launch being projected into the air from a launch-rail mounted on the back of a truck. The launch rail having been originally developed for the US Army Aquilla UAV that failed to enter service. The Phoenix was recovered by parachute, landing on its back, with a crushable "hump" on the back taking up the impact. The zero-length take-off and landing was an essential requirement for operating in NATO's Central Region and deployment in a forward divisional area. Maximum flight time was around 4 hours.
Phoenix sensors provided imagery direct to the GCS where it was analysed and reported to artillery headquarters, to command level, or to a Phoenix troop command post. The principal method of communication from the GCS to artillery on the ground was via the Battlefield Artillery Target Engagement System (BATES). The UAV could be launched within an hour of reaching its launch site. A second UAV can be launched within a further eight minutes and up to two UAVs can be controlled from the same ground station.
The name Phoenix was taken from Project Phoenix, a late 1970s study into surveillance and target acquisition needs after cancellation of the unsuccessful development of Westland MRUASTAS to replace AN/USD501 Midge. The Phoenix saw limited operational use as part of the British contribution to Kosovo Force (KFOR) and in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The system was operated by the 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery The final operational flight of the Phoenix was conducted by in May 2006. The Phoenix was originally supposed to remain in service until 2013, but the British felt they need something better, and set up an international competition designated "Watchkeeper" for a next-generation UAV system in 2002. A group led by Thales Group of France won the competition in late 2004, with the system built around the Elbit Hermes 180 tactical UAV and Elbit Hermes 450 endurance UAV, the Watchkeeper WK450 system. An interim system, Hermes 450, was deployed operationally in 2007. The 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery also uses the Desert Hawk UAV.
The REME Museum of Technology has an airframe on permanent display outside the shop.