Intern with 586th FLTS creates tool pilots can use during flight

  • Published
  • By Deidre Moon

This summer, Jacob Moreno, a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, spent his time as an intern with the 586th Flight Test Squadron, or FLTS.

In the spirit of innovation and accelerating change, Moreno coded a program that automatically deciphers airspace data into a graphical format that aircrew members can view while in flight on their iPad electronic flight bag.

The 586th FLTS is a unit of the 704th Test Group at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

While the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, or AEDC, at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., is focused on advancing air power through ground testing, the 704th Test Group is all about testing in the open skies.

The desert base was chosen for flight missions based on its proximity to White Sands Missile Range, the Defense Department’s largest open-air test range. On any given day the over 16,000-square-mile range is divvied up and distributed amongst numerous programs executing research and development activities ranging from live missile launches and small arms training to flight operations.

According to Maj. Ali Hamidani, flight test engineer and Test Operations Flight commander with the 586th Flight Test Squadron, a unit of the 704th TG, the deconfliction process for flight missions is complicated, and aircrews have to pay special attention to the areas over which they can test safely.

“Airspace assignments are depicted on large spreadsheets with tens of rows and columns, including data like time assignments, latitudes, and longitudes and altitudes,” Hamidani said. “To make matters even more challenging, these spreadsheets are updated, sometimes, up to 10 times a day. Safe flight operations hinge upon aircrews’ attention to detail in deciphering this data in a precise and timely manner.”

Test pilot Thomas Hill, technical director for the 586th FLTS, highlighted the benefits of the intern’s program.

“The software program that Moreno designed and coded, greatly reduces the potential for error, and mission planning time,” he said.

Hamidani, who helped guide Moreno in this development, added it would sometimes take up to 30 minutes to decipher all the restrictions before even stepping into a pre-flight briefing that’s scheduled two hours prior to takeoff.

“What’s most impressive is that Moreno, a college intern, was able to use in-house resources to find a solution,” he said. “The program takes Microsoft Excel data, converts it to a geographic keyhole markup language file, which can then be imported into the Foreflight app on an iPad. It is a huge timesaver, which means that we can spend more time on planning other important aspects of the missions.”

Lt. Col. Alex Wolfard, 586th FLTS commander, also applauded Moreno’s resourcefulness.
“This entire system, from design to operational implementation, was created by a first-year summer hire,” he said. “We’re really impressed with Moreno.”

The software tool has been such a success, that the plan is to share the capability across all flying units at Holloman AFB.