News>Engineers go beyond virtual reality to test systems
Maj. Raul Parra watches 2nd Lt. Will Dalton, an F-15 Eagle avionics engineer, operate the F-15C console at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Major Parra is director of operations at the Integrated Avionics Test Facility of Detachment 2, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Airman 1st Class Allan Robillos ensures radio frequency-signal connections are correct on the electronic countermeasures attack suite at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Airman Robillos is an electronic warfare technician. (U.S. Air Force photo)
by Chrissy Cuttita
325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
7/19/2006 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- Some aircraft parts can be used to fight in air-to-air combat without ever having to take off a runway. By assembling the avionics "guts" of fighter jets into racks and consoles, engineers and technicians can recreate flight and aerial threats in one facility.
The Air Force has that inexpensive option, thanks to the Integrated Avionics Test Facility here of Detachment 2, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron. Weapons systems of all types of F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons can be operationally tested, with the potential to support a wide variety of other test users.
"Our technicians and engineers perform the same functions as pilots and are very experienced in flight testing," said Maj. Raul Parra, director of operations. "They run the mission from the control center the same as any fighter squadron would, including a prebrief and a debrief."
Actual aircraft parts are used and tested in the tower to get a better than simulated flight experience. Engineers call it "hardware in the loop" testing. They test new software and hardware or updates to existing systems that are already deemed fit in the Air Force inventory to validate performance. Results are provided to the rest of the Combined Air Force services.
The facility conducts test programs through two operational modes, open-air and ground-loop missions that use unique Air Force fighter radars/avionics, air-to-air missiles, electronic attack and electronic protection suites. Radar target generators build the simulated target aircraft interceptors. For ground-loop testing one tower communicates to another to relay signals for simulated flight testing.
For open-air testing, the Integrated Avionics Test Facility tower can use its radars to transmit and illuminate against airborne interceptor targets created by aircraft in their area of operations. Those aircraft can be enroute to another location or can intentionally engage the tower in a fly-by mission and test their capabilities, but they never have to land on Tyndall's runway to get test results.
For ground-loop testing, "the target generator builds synthetic targets and feeds its signal into the jamming system to simulate a target in the range-of-interest. Further analysis shows how well the representative aircraft radars and avionics fixed within the tower perform," said Andrew Kay, detachment technical director.
For the flight test engineers at the operation consoles, the experience of flying jets goes beyond operating the aircraft's guts, they often receive on-the-job training flying with fighter squadrons at Tyndall and Eglin AFB, Fla. This gives engineers the opportunity to experience the warfighters' environment, the operational methods applied and the language used by fighter pilots.
The detachment's operationally representative aircraft systems integration, its facilities and range location make this one-of-a-kind test center a national asset.
"We support the (Combined Air Forces) and I see our future more as electronic warfare centric and operationally joint in support of other services," Major Parra said. "Pilots come in from around the world and see how their systems are performing against the tower and they get real-time feedback on the weapon systems. This is unique because the only time they'll see that performance is when they are in a war or threat scenario."