Edwards AFB’s Active April Demonstrates Continued Test Operations during COVID-19 Conditions

  • Published
  • By Grady Fontana
  • 412th Test Wing

The month of April launched a new normal at Edwards Air Force Base. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, units around the base have taken steps to assure the mission continues while ensuring the health and safety of Airmen during this time of social distancing and teleworking.

While the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the nation, including Edwards AFB and surrounding communities, the 412th Test Wing (412th TW) has maintained an operational tempo that rivals pre-virus days, despite geographically separated teams and reduced manning. The 412th TW has continued operations through the adoption of dynamic processes and innovative techniques.

While the 412th TW never stood down and has carried on to keep critical test missions flying in support of the warfighter, protecting its people has always been paramount.

“At the Operations Group, we moved quickly to take care of Airmen and their families, ensured that we could plan, conduct, and report on flight test across the entirety of our COVID response, and prepared to reconstitute at full capacity when conditions changed,” said Col. Timothy J. Spaulding, commander, 412th Operations Group, 412th TW.

To highlight these continuing operations and dynamic processes, in the past month, during the height of the pandemic curve around the nation, the 412th TW stayed busy conducting various tests, such as participating in Distributed Test Operations (DTO) with the T-7A, resuming manned cockpit simulation operations, and critical electronic warfare testing at the Benefield Anechoic Facility (BAF) at Edwards AFB.

On April 30, the T-7A Test Team executed the first real-time DTO in a mission control room at Ridley Mission Control Center at Edwards AFB. The T-7A Red Hawk is part of the new advanced pilot training system for the U.S. Air Force that will train the next generation of pilots and is scheduled to replace the current T-38.

The significance of the DTO process is that it allows engineers within Ridley to view real-time flight tests from remote locations. The latest test took place approximately 2,000 miles away at the Boeing St. Louis facility, which allowed engineers at Edwards AFB to watch video and view flight telemetry in real-time. 

The DTO project began in June 2019, during Boeing’s first phase of flight testing their T1/T2 aircraft.  With the need for the Edwards’ T-7A Test Team to participate in test activities in St. Louis, pilots and engineers from Edwards would normally be required to travel to the Boeing facility for weeks at a time, removing their expertise from other critical test efforts at Edwards.

The DTO method not only saves program money and time, it offers an added layer of protection during COVID-19 by minimizing exposure to Edwards personnel.

“It is a great feeling knowing that my workforce can still safely execute our nation’s priority test missions during the COVID crisis,” said Lt. Col. Scott S. Fann, commander, 416th Flight Test Squadron. “It’s an even better feeling that they might even be more efficient collecting and analyzing data from Edwards than if they were on location 2,000 miles away in St. Louis.  We have the potential to really change the model of how we use our precious engineering resources to increase test productivity here at Edwards.”

In other operations, the 412th TW resumed mission-essential flight testing when the 772nd Test Squadron’s (772 TS) modeling and simulation engineers and technicians restarted manned cockpit simulation operations to support flight test mission rehearsals at Edwards AFB on April 14.

The 772nd TS also reopened its doors to the F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF), the first customer to do so since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted operations at Edwards and much of the world.

During the previous three weeks, the 772nd TS Team coordinated with customers and 412th Medical Group advisors to plan the return to safe and effective operations to jumpstart mission rehearsals. They developed COVID-19 Contingency Operations Plans that included health-safety walkthroughs and sanitization activities for effective simulator operations while maintaining the health and safety of the 772nd TS operators and technicians, and the F-35 ITF crews and engineers.

Modifications included tighter control of personnel in the simulation labs, including, redesigning engineering workstation layouts to provide six-foot separation, and facilitating and encouraging the use of regular sanitization and physical distancing policies before, during and after flight rehearsals.

In the BAF at Edwards AFB, mission-essential personnel remained focused and continued critical testing on the F-15E Eagle that was undergoing electronic warfare testing.

“Currently, an F-15E is in the BAF and outfitted with the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System (EPAWSS), an integrated digital avionics system designed to protect the F-15E Eagle against enemy air defense systems”, said Jon Danner, F-15 Division Test Manager at Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

This test is a collaborative effort among the F-15 System Program Office at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, the 96th Test Wing’s 46th Test Squadron at Eglin AFB in Florida, the 412th Test Wing’s 412th Electronic Warfare Group’s 772nd Test Squadron at Edwards, and contractors with Boeing and BAE Systems.

“The EPAWSS takes advantages of today’s computing, receiver and transmitter technologies to provide a quicker, smarter response to the threats and better actionable information to the pilot”, said Ed Sabat, Project Development Lead and Civilian Director of Operations, 772nd Test Squadron.

While COVID-19 has altered the way Edwards AFB units are conducting business, ingenuity and innovation are driving tools to ensure the important test missions continue during challenging times.