Tag Archives: Joint Base Langley–Eustis

A Highly-Modified Boeing 757 Pivotal To Enhance The F-22 Raptor 5th Generation Stealth Aircraft

The Flying Test Bed routinely flies with real F-22 Raptors both at Edwards and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in order to gain an early look at F-22 mission software.

N757A is a highly modified and instrumented Boeing 757 that has been retrofitted to act as an F-22 flying laboratory. Also referred to as the Flying Test Bed (FTB), the aircraft (the first B757 ever produced), is used to perform flight test of F-22 avionics and sensors in an open-air, operationally representative environment.

The weird 757 Flying Test Bed was used to test the Raptor’s avionics in flight, before the first Raptor ever flew: this was critical to speed up the development of F-22’s avionics – “more highly integrated than anything in existence” – enabling extensive in-flight testing, evaluation and troubleshooting while reducing risk and costs.

The test avionics are operated from a simulated F-22 cockpit installed in the cabin that embeds primary and secondary F-22 displays, as well as a throttle and stick. According to Boeing, the FTB has room on the aircraft for up to 30 software engineers and technicians who can evaluate the avionics, identify anomalies and, in some cases, resolve problems in real-time. Moreover, additional modifications to the 757 include installation of an F-22 radar housed in the forward fuselage section of the quite distinctive nose of the plane, and installation of a sensor wing on the crown of the plane immediately behind the flight deck.

Since the F-22 continues to grow as new software releases make new features, sensors and capabilities available, the FTB, routinely flies with F-22 Raptors both at Edwards AFB, California, and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada: these joint missions provide the testers an early look at F-22 mission software before the code is released to developmental flight testers, mainly at Edwards.

Although not as much as the F-35, the F-22’s 5th generation capabilities are mostly “software-defined.” For instance, an initial air-to-surface capability, including that of dropping the GBU-39 (a 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range, whose integration testing started in 2007) was introduced on the U.S. premiere air superiority fighter with the software increment 3.1 back in 2012. Then, with the latest upgrades the F-22s have become a real multi-role platformsthat can drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs (while previously limited to carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs – Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in the internal weapon bay, and the AIM-9X Sidewinder, that was first introduced operationally on Mar. 1, 2016 by the 90th Fighter Squadron.

Two F-22 Raptors from the 411th Flight Test Squadron fly over Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Courtesy photo by Chad Bellay/Lockheed Martin)

Noteworthy, the FTB visited Edwards earlier in May to examine the F-22 Raptor program’s upgraded mission software, a U.S. Air Force release states.

“This particular FTB deployment provided an excellent training opportunity for the FTB test team, as well as members of the F-22 CTF, while reducing risk to the F-22 3.2B (software) program by allowing us to have an early look at some prototype mission software planned for the final 3.2B software delivery,” said Rachel Kitzmann, Boeing Agile Integration Laboratory F-22 lead test director. “Our F-22 mission equipment is completely segregated from the 757 flight controls, so we can fly with prototype software that has not gone through a formal Equipment Operational Flight Clearance process. This allows us to have an early look at developmental software and problem fixes prior to release to the 411 Flight Test Squadron here at Edwards.”

Interestingly, FTB has the ability to load different software in real-time during flight, allowing multiple configurations to be tested during early developmental testing in pretty long missions, lasting up to seven hours. When not in flight, the FTB is connected to Boeing’s Agile Integration Ground Laboratory, which allows the company to add additional hardware, instrumentation and test equipment required to perform system-level integration and development testing.

“The FTB saves money and reduces the F-22 modernization timeline,” said Kevin Sullivan, 411th FLTS F-22 avionics lead. “It provides risk reduction because it’s easier to fly, fix, fly more quickly instead of having software certified and loaded into an actual F-22. It allows us to look at the avionics software in an F-22 representative hardware and software environment and is capable of acting like an F-22, which can integrate with our F-22s here during test sorties.”

The FTB has been supporting the development of F-22’s mission software well before the Raptor’s first flight (image credit: LM)

The FTB is based at St. Louis Missouri, since May 5. Previously it operated from Boeing Field in Washington where it had been based since 1999.

Top image credit: Sunil Gupta/Wikimedia

Salva

Atlantic Trident 17 brought together in type and capability the most formidable combination of fighter aircraft ever assembled.

Atlantic Trident 17 Drives a Higher Level of Integration.

The exercise held April 12 – 28 at Joint Base Langley-Eustice (JBLE) included a “Blue Air” force of USAF F-22 Raptors of the 1st Fighter Wing (FW) JBLE and F-35 Lightning IIs from Eglin AFB, Typhoons of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Rafales of the French Air Force/Armée de l’Air (FAF).

The adversaries or “Red Air” included USAF F-15E Strike Eagles of the 391st FS “Bold Tigers” Mountain Home AFB, ID and T-38A Talons of the 71st Fighter Training Squadron (FTS) “Ironmen” based at JBLE.  Additional assets included the E-3A Sentry from Tinker AFB, OK and a variety of tankers, including a FAF KC-135 and KC-10 of the 305th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ.

Aside from the primary training objectives the exercise also provided the opportunity to commemorate 100 years of aerial combat cooperation between the French and US stemming back to WWI.

From the outside, looking in the lethal capabilities of Blue Air appeared to be overwhelming, with Red Air offering little challenge.  However, one must consider that the 71st FTS “Ironmen” fly daily as adversaries against the Raptor and possess pilots with Raptor experience.  These factors (along with the sheer numbers of Red Air fielded and their ability to “regenerate” on range) provide Red Air with the best likelihood to exploit any vulnerabilities or errors with Blue Air’s tactics – regardless their impressive platforms.

Towards the end of the exercise The Aviationist sat down with Colonel Pete “Coach” Fesler, 1 FW Commander to discuss the exercise and the evolution of air combat in the context of 5th Gen aircraft.

Fesler noted that Atlantic Trident ’17 took integration beyond historical practice. On a tactical level integration historically involved a serial employment of aircraft (such as a Combat Air Patrol of RAF Typhoons) or geographical deconfliction of aircraft (such as FAF assets attacking ground targets in a designated area).  However, as Fesler explained starting with Red Flag 17-1 integration has gone deeper, involving a variety of platforms in the same airspace at the same time.  Integration between platforms also considered the various loiter time and weapons load/type for a given platform over a given vulnerability period (vul – the period of time when an aircraft is vulnerable to harm).

RAF Typhoons on the ramp with Strike Eaglesat Joint Base Langley-Eustis during Atlantic Trident ’17.

While not being specific, it is not difficult to envision a mixed strike package of Rafales and F-35s, a combat air patrol (CAP) of Typhoons and Raptors (or mix and match on any given mission set).  This level of integration leads to big challenges for an adversary who may easily be fixated on attacking a detected Gen 4.5 aircraft, while getting blindsided by a 5th Gen platform or be distracted by a 5th Gen threat “sensed” in the area and get bounced by a very capable Typhoon or Rafale. Hesitation in such air to air combat will most likely be punished with an ending in a ball of flames.

Dassualt Rafales of the Armée de l’air – French Air Force on the ramp at JBLE during Atlantic Trident ’17

The abundance of information available on the battlefield today drives a much higher level of integration.  Fesler noted that multiple people/assets may be involved with the finding, identifying and targeting portion of an air to air encounter. The pilot may take care of the final step and fire the missile that kills the target, but wouldn’t have found their way to that merge unless the assets got them there.

Atlantic Trident ’17 provided an opportunity to demonstrate how the advancement of aircraft, tactics and integration is driving change in the function of the fighter force.  For many years, the F-22 Raptor has utilized its superior sensors and SA to take the role of “quarterback” during a vul.  Given the integration of the F-35 and with the capabilities of the Typhoon and Rafale, the notion of a “single quarterback” is changing.  Frankly, per Fesler, the quarterback notion is starting to become almost a misnomer now in that we have multiple quarterbacks and it’s less about one individual directing everything and more about multiple nodes of information being able to provide the key pieces of information at the right time to influence the fight.  It is a foreboding thought for an adversary who now faces a team, where every position has the intelligence/capability of a hall of fame quarterback, even while performing their specific role at the highest level.

F-22 Raptors of the 1st FW JBLE wait for launch clearance at the EOR during Atlantic Trident ’17.

Performing at a high level is one thing, altering the playing field is another.  The 5th Gen aircraft has done that very thing, altering the classic air to air engagement in a fundamental way.  Fesler noted, the classic approach of shooting ones missiles and turning before the adversary can get a shot is predicated on the fact that the adversary sees you.  In the 4th gen world that is the case.  Ideally the pilot would like to be able to shoot, let their missile do the work and get away before the adversary can get a missile off.  In the 5th Gen world, the adversary doesn’t necessarily know where you are coming from.  The 5th Gen pilot may shoot a missile and monitor to make sure it is effective.  If the missile misses for any number of reasons, they are in good position for a follow-up shot.

F-22 Raptor of the 1st Fighter Wing JBLE taxis towards launch during Atlantic Trident ’17.

That is one of the fundamental difference between 4th Gen fighters and 5th Gen fighters.  In general, in the 5th Gen world the adversary doesn’t really know where you are coming from.  They may have a general idea but not a lot of specifics.  For 5th Gen pilots it’s a good place to be, to be able to roam around the battlefield faster than the speed of sound in an airplane that is largely undetectable all while your airplane is building a 3 dimensional picture of everything within a couple hundred miles of you. Ouch.

F-35A from Eglin AFB moves towards launch for a vul during Atlantic Trident ’17 exercise held at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA.

Aside from the exceptional technical aspects that fascinate and draw attention, Felser ultimately notes that his takeaways from Atlantic Trident ‘17 fall back to the human aspect; “fighter pilots are fighter pilots regardless of what their uniforms look like.  Aircraft maintainers are aircraft maintainers regardless of what their uniforms look like.  There are some universal experiences, beliefs and cultures that transcend the national boundaries in this and that’s one of the things I have enjoyed out of both Tri-lateral exercises (2015 & AT ‘17) that we’ve had.  The man in the machine still makes a difference. You can have the most lethal fighter in the world but if you make a mistake a far inferior aircraft can shoot you out of the sky. Training still matters.  If that were not the case, we’d buy the machines, park them and never fly them and when war kicked off jump in them and go and fly. That in fact is not the case and you can lose a war with the best equipment if you don’t know how to use it right, if your tactics aren’t sound, if your skills aren’t automatic, you can still lose.”

F-15E of the 391st FS “Bold Tigers” Mountain Home AFB, ID launches from JBLE for Red Air Vul during Atlantic Trident ’17

Atlantic Trident ‘17 reveals the way forward; advanced integration, people making a difference, and high level training.  This rationale drives the Air Force ensuring it is ready with the highest capability for the next conflict on day 1.

Fourth and fifth-generation aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The F-35 Lightning II was incorporated in the exercise, along with the F-22 Raptor and fourth-generation assets to develop tactics, techniques and procedures that can be used during future coalition fights. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to Jeffrey Hood 633 ABW PA and the entire 633 ABW Public Affairs Team who were instrumental and exceptional with their support; Col. Pete “Coach” Fesler, 1 Fighter Wing Commanding Officer, and the entire 1 FW; the entire team at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, professional and gracious throughout the visit.  You set the bar, our service people are the finest.

Image credit: Todd Miller, unless otherwise stated.

 

This photo shows 13 F-22 Raptors squeezed into the NASA Langley Research Center hangar for Hurricane protection

13 F-22 Raptors and 9 other aircraft found a shelter in the NASA hangar at Langley.

The image above was posted by the Commander of the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

It shows 13 F-22 Raptors along with 9 other aircraft for a collective 22 planes squeezed inside inside a giant NASA Langley Research Center hangar, rated for Cat. 2 hurricanes, where the multi-role stealth jets were recovered in preparation of the arrival of Hurricane Hermine.

When there is no enough space to accommodate all the aircraft, airbases about to be hit by Hurricanes evacuate their aprons temporarily moving the planes to other airfields: an operation dubbed “Hurrevacing” (from HurrEvac – Hurricane Evacuation).

Image credit: NASA

F-22 with historic Maloney’s Pony insignia has been the first Raptor to go into combat in Syria

Some images of Maloney’s Pony, the legendary insignia of first combat F-22 Raptor.

A very special F-22 belonging to the 27th Fighter Squadron from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia visited the 411th Fighter Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California in June and November of 2015 as part of the Signature Management Program, which is aimed to maintain its stealth characteristics.

A well-known artwork is painted on the body of this Raptor: called “Maloney’s Pony,” the insignia was applied on the F-22 tail number 09-0174 in honor of Maj. Thomas E. Maloney, the 27th Fighter Squadron’s highest scoring Ace of World War II.

Legendary Artwork

Maloney crashed in the Mediterranean Sea while he was flying his P-38 Lightning (that he named Maloney’s Pony) during a strike mission over France in August of 1944. Presumed dead, Maloney was instead alive since he floated to shore and tried to find the French Resistance to help him get back across the line: this became a real challenge when he was badly injured after stepping on a mine. Nevertheless Maloney was able to evade enemy forces crawling for ten days until a French farmer rescued him. Then, once in stable condition a C-54 escorted by twelve P-38s from Maloney’s squadron, finally transported him home.
To honor him, the 27th Fighter Squadron has always named one of its aircraft as “Maloney’s Pony.”

But as Maj. David Schmitt, 411th Fighter Test Squadron assistant director of operations, explains “when the squadron became a Raptor squadron, they did away with (Maloney’s Pony) because it’s a stealth aircraft, they didn’t want anything on the side of it so that tradition stopped.”

Eventually, the tradition of Maloney’s Pony found its way back to the squadron in 2011, when Lt. Col. Pete Fesler, the then 27th Fighter Squadron commander, restored it and a mock-up of the nose art used in the World War II-era P-38 Lightning was applied to F-22 Raptor number 09-0174.

Noteworthy, following the heritage of the original Maloney’s Pony, this F-22 has been the first of its type to go into combat when it led a flight of Raptors into Syria in 2014.

Maloney's Pony

 

Image credit: Senior Airman Kayla Newman and Airman 1st Class Teresa Cleveland  / U.S. Air Force

Rare insight into F-22 Raptor vs T-38 Talon aerial combat training at Langley

This is how F-22 fighter pilots train to improve their air-to-air skills.

The venerable T-38 Talon which first flew in 1959 (production ceased in 1972) has found new life as an adversary aircraft used to hone the skills of Raptor pilots. The aircraft, pulled from storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and refurbished with current systems (including jamming pods such as the AN/ALQ-188) have been deployed in support squadrons at Holloman AFB, Tyndall AFB and Langley AFB (Joint Base Langley–Eustis).

The T-38s provide an excellent simulation of a number of non-stealthy adversaries that Raptors could come into contact with from countries around the globe. Beyond their value as adversaries, the Talon’s cost per flight hour is reported as $18,000 less than the Raptor and they preserve precious flight hours on the F-22s.

Small, relatively fast, and painted black the Talons are difficult to put eyes on, though primary training would imply detection and “shoot down” BVR (Beyond Visual Range).

The T-38s are typically flown by Raptor pilots who are the most qualified to challenge the Raptor, and exploit any and all perceived air-to-air vulnerabilities. Imagine a widely dispersed flight of T-38s moving fast at 50 ft off the water attempting to penetrate an area under Raptor CAP (Combat Air Patrol). The final result most certainly makes Raptor pilots extremely familiar and confident in their aircraft and its capabilities as they push both sides of an engagement thoroughly.

T-38 Langley

A typical day at Langley features the launching of groups of Raptors (1st Fighter Wing) and Talon adversaries (27th Fighter Squadron) morning and afternoon on two hour sorties for Tactical Intercepts and Offensive/Defensive Counter-Air training.

The training realized in these daily encounters ensure mission ready, mission capable pilots are available for deployment to any number of global hotspots. Perhaps most significantly this training provides an unparalleled level of confidence for Raptor pilots, for it is one thing to believe you are invisible, and another to know you are. It is this kind of confidence that leads to engagements like that of the F-22 Raptors sliding up undetected and unexpected on IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom jets that were attempting to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran.

Leaving no doubt, Raptors with Talons are more dangerous than Raptors alone.

Special thanks to the PAO of Joint Base Langley–Eustis.

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.