The US Navy has awarded a $5.6m contract to Calspan’s flight research group to modify the Saab 340 twin-engine turboprop aircraft used to train navy pilots.

Under the contract, the company will modify the aircraft with specialised sensor equipment and a simulation cockpit that will be used to train students at the US Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland.

Enhancements to the aircraft also include replacing the nose of the former commercial airliner with that of an F-16 fighter jet, reports.

The aircraft will train pilots and engineers in how to evaluate integrated airborne sensor systems, and will be deployed for 40 weeks each year.

The navy’s current four-engine NP-3D aircraft used for airborne systems training and research support will be replaced by the modified Calspan’s aircraft.

Modifications on the aircraft are expected to be complete by January 2010 and the contract also covers three years of Calspan-supported operations.