HomeNewsArticle Display

Test center fuses old, new technology for light attack

Maj. Jesse Smith exits a Hawker Beechcraft AT-6C after testing the light-attack aircraft's ability to perform a combat search and rescue mission Oct. 7, 2010, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. Major Smith is one of several pilots invited by the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center to fly the experimental airplane this month and provide recommendations for improving its capability. Major Smith is an A-10 pilot from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Gabe Johnson)

Maj. Jesse Smith exits a Hawker Beechcraft AT-6C after testing the light-attack aircraft's ability to perform a combat search and rescue mission Oct. 7, 2010, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. Major Smith is one of several pilots invited by the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center to fly the experimental airplane this month and provide recommendations for improving its capability. Major Smith is an A-10 pilot from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Gabe Johnson)

A Hawker Beechcraft AT-6C, modified for various light-attack missions, releases flares during an operational test Oct. 5, 2010, over the Southern Arizona desert. It was the first time flare buckets, or aircraft survivability equipment, were mounted onto the airplane and fully integrated with the control system on board. A team of pilots and engineers certified that the airplane could separate the flares correctly while learning if the modification would have adverse effects on the airplane's handling. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

A Hawker Beechcraft AT-6C, modified for various light-attack missions, releases flares during an operational test Oct. 5, 2010, over the Southern Arizona desert. It was the first time flare buckets, or aircraft survivability equipment, were mounted onto the airplane and fully integrated with the control system on board. A team of pilots and engineers certified that the airplane could separate the flares correctly while learning if the modification would have adverse effects on the airplane's handling. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

A Hawker Beechcraft AT-6C, modified for various light attack missions, releases flares during an operational test Oct. 5, 2010, over the Southern Arizona desert. It was the first time flare buckets, or aircraft survivability equipment, were mounted onto the airplane and fully integrated with the control system on board. A team of pilots and engineers certified that the airplane could separate the flares correctly while learning if the modification would have adverse effects on the airplane's handling. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

A Hawker Beechcraft AT-6C, modified for various light attack missions, conducts an operational test Oct. 5, 2010, over the Southern Arizona desert. It was the first time flare buckets, or aircraft survivability equipment, were mounted onto the airplane and fully integrated with the control system on board. A team of pilots and engineers certified that the airplane could separate the flares correctly while learning if the modification would have adverse effects on the airplane's handling. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS) -- Test pilots and engineers here are learning what happens when high-tech systems are combined with low-tech airframes for a new, cost effective, light-attack aircraft.

Light attack, a revitalized concept in the Air Force, addresses the need for an airplane that offers surveillance as well as strike capabilities and walks the line between remotely piloted aircraft and high-performance fighters.

In appearance, Hawker Beechcraft AT-6Cs resemble the fighters of yesteryear with single engine propellers and shark-face nose art. They are, in actuality, one possible candidate for Air Force light attack aircraft and the latest project for Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center officials based at Tucson International Airport.

Lt. Col. Keith Colmer, a developmental test pilot and director of engineering for AATC, deployed to Iraq in early 2008, where he flew numerous close air support missions in F-16 Fighting Falcons.

During more than 100 combat hours, he served as an eye in the sky for Army elements but he said he rarely engaged the enemy on their behalf.

"Right now we are paying a high cost to fly an F-16 in terms of fuel and wear and tear for missions that don't require the full capabilities of the airplane," said Colonel Colmer, who leads AATC's light-attack program. "With fourth generation fighters nearing the end of their service life, a light-attack platform could take on these kinds of missions and lighten the load."

The test center, which conducts operational tests on behalf of the Reserve, is manned by a team of active-duty, Guard, Reserve, civilian and contractor members who field low-cost, low-risk, off-the-shelf improvements for aircraft and weapons systems.

Officials said the center's unique efficiency is perfect for building and evaluating a light-attack aircraft.

"In keeping with our '80 percent of the capability for 20 percent of the cost' motto, we took existing technology from the A-10 (Thunderbolt II) and F-16 and inserted it in the AT-6," Colonel Colmer said.

Mounted next to the AT-6's manual flight controls, levers, cables and pulleys are mission computers, situational awareness data links, radios, helmet-mounted cueing systems, hands-on stick and throttles, threat countermeasures and armament pylons typically found on current fighter and attack aircraft.

"We learned a lot from initial testing earlier this year and made several adjustments," Colonel Colmer said. "The testing this month is about bringing in testers from around the Air Force; A-10 and F-16 pilots from Edwards (Air Force Base, Calif.), Nellis (AFB, Nev.), and Eglin (AFB, Fla.)"

"Overall, pilots are coming back after flying it excited about light attack," Colonel Colmer said. "They're enjoying the sorties and the aircraft's capabilities. Almost everyone has a list of things they would like to change, but that's what we expected. Now we'll take their input and make it a better aircraft."

Maj. Jesse Smith, an A-10 pilot from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB, flew the modified AT-6 during a simulated combat search and rescue sortie Oct. 7.

"It's easy to handle," Major Smith said. "They took some of the systems and avionics from the A-10, so that made it easier for me to step in. Based on the scenario we had today, we were able to go out and execute."

"It's not the answer for everything, but if you look at what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a good concept that can save money."

To buy and operate a light-attack aircraft costs pennies on the dollar compared to an A-10 or F-16.

For the A-10 or F-16, the cost per flying hour is around 15,000 to 17,000 dollars for fuel and maintenance.

Test center officials say the AT-6 is currently running at about 600 dollars per hour.

Though light attack is not viewed as a replacement for jets, Airmen here are finding out that the two-seat turboprop can fill a number of roles.

Pilots are examining the AT-6 as a companion trainer to give them a firsthand look at close air support from the air.

Combat controllers and tactical air control party members are also evaluating the aircraft as a possible trainer.

"Right now in the (joint terminal attack control) community, there are not enough sorties to keep them trained," Colonel Colmer said. "One thought is that this type of aircraft could be based with their units so they could get more practice with controlling an aircraft that adequately replicates an A-10 or F-16. They could even fly more often to gain a sense of a pilot's perspective."

In domestic operations it could support border security, counter drug and homeland defense.

For state missions, during fires, floods or other disasters, it could use sensors to map out an area for responders.

Additionally, officials believe a light-attack platform can help build partner nation air forces that lack the funding and the need for jet-powered aircraft.

"It's exciting to be a proponent for light attack in this early stage when the possibilities seem endless and we can demonstrate what one of these airplanes could do," said Colonel Colmer, who emphasized that light attack is not yet a procurement program.

Usually, testing occurs after an aircraft is purchased. In this case, Colonel Colmer and his team have a unique opportunity to help develop and refine a set of technologies and weapons for a light-attack airplane and give decision makers a clear picture before they buy a platform.

"For the last 18 months, we've been working on requirements and technologies to integrate on the aircraft," Colonel Colmer said. "Future iterations of tests will integrate Hellfire missiles, Aim 9 Sidewinders and various other weapons."

Engage

Twitter
Fueling the fight. #ReadyAF 😎 https://t.co/P21eDRLvXE
Twitter
RT @cmsaf_official: Daniel Hulter & Austin Wiggins — appreciate the time and look forward to continuing the conversation...and of course,…
Twitter
RT @thejointstaff: #GenMilley: Today we are in the middle of a fundamental change in the character of war. Partnerships w/ industry will pr…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Airmen are our most valuable resource, and the #Airmen and their families at @HAFB are no exception. I’m grateful for the…
Twitter
RT @AFGlobalStrike: “Modernization is a must to ensure that safety, security, and reliability don’t erode and put our strategic deterrence…
Twitter
#AccelerateChange Action Order D - Design Implementation. "We must learn how to be agile and adapt to the future."… https://t.co/XNPdYx31QJ
Twitter
.@TeamEglin successfully flew an F-15E Strike Eagle with six JDAMs on a single side of the aircraft, showcasing a c… https://t.co/Ppn4xl4eVm
Twitter
RT @DeptofDefense: Twin Eagles ✈️✈️ @usairforce F-15E Strike Eagles fly over Southwest Asia. https://t.co/wF06SAu5jJ
Twitter
RT @NellisAFB: Welcome to @NellisAFB @GenCQBrownJr. We look forward to introducing you and Mrs. Brown to our fine Airmen and families as yo…
Twitter
#ICYMI The #AirForce Uniform Office has finalized the design of the new Physical Training Gear uniform, or PTG, and… https://t.co/PT9teXlWM3
Twitter
Two #AirForce Installation and Mission Support Center units recently won Gears of Government awards for delivering… https://t.co/cZFtpnjjU0
Twitter
The @AFThunderbirds and the @BlueAngels conducted the 2nd Annual Joint Training @NAFECPAO, to trade the best pract… https://t.co/6OvatQ4nQn
Twitter
Airmen and Guardians in some career fields will now have more dress and appearance options with upcoming uniform ch… https://t.co/bbHs3w56G0
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: #GBSD will provide the U.S. a resilient and flexible modern ICBM deterrent capability for decades to come, while assuring…
Twitter
RT @cmsaf_official: Facts. Have a fantastic Wednesday! https://t.co/2rcUdurEaw
Twitter
Registration is now open for the virtual 2021 Air Force Learning Professionals Consortium, happening from March 23-… https://t.co/mDjHSbb1wc
Twitter
In line with @GenCQBrownJr's #AccelerateChange or Lose Action Order A: Airmen, the Department of the Air Force has… https://t.co/vePyf1NMaS
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Met with GBSD leaders @HAFB today. Our nuclear weapons are critical to a safe, secure, and reliable strategic deterrent. …
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,331,144
Follow Us