Edwards F-35 Control Room Ready for Flight Tests

4/6/2007 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA. -- The 412th Test Management Group completed the range acceptance certification procedure on March 23 for the newest range mission control room built to test the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Unofficial assessments of the certification state the control room is ready to support any mission, said Michelle Caldera, program manager of the Range Control Rooms project with the 412th Test Support Squadron project management directorate.

"It's exciting to work on something this significant and state of the art," said Ms. Caldera. "We're still working on getting the security certification completed."

The range control room was designed to provide the F-35 test team with the facilities necessary to monitor the real-time performance of the aircraft during its test missions here, said Steve Cronk, Director of Operations for the 412th Range Squadron.

The construction of the control room started in 2004, and took about six months to complete. Equipment installation and room certification is now completed, and the room is scheduled to be commissioned Wednesday. The 412th Range Squadron, a part of the 412th Test Engineering Group, is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the JSF control room.

"The new control room is actually just one of the many control rooms that the range squadron uses here in the Ridley Control Center," said Nancy Bergren, test support operations lead with the F-35 Integrated Test Force. "Initially, we looked at the range's existing control rooms and determined there wasn't enough capacity to support the JSF."

Up to approximately 40 flight test engineers from the F-35 Integrated Test Force will work in the control room, Ms. Bergren said. Eight people on the range support the operations and maintenance of the control room.

The tests are conducted by the Integrated Test Force, which is comprised of government civilian, military, contractor and foreign partner personnel, Mr. Cronk said.

"The control room allows us to deliver a better product to the warfighter sooner," he said. "The capability here provides us the ability to thoroughly test and evaluate the performance of the F-35 and find any problems with the aircraft long before we deliver it."

During missions, the control room will receive telemetry data from the F-35 and video data from the range, Ms. Bergren said.

"The technology in this control room is state of the art in real-time data-processing capabilities," Mr. Cronk said. "When the JSF is full up and running, this control room will process about 250,000 parameters from the aircraft at 3 million samples per second. The F-22 had 120,000 parameters processed at about 1 million samples per second. So you can see how technology has improved in just a few years."

"We know everything that is happening on the aircraft," Mr. Cronk said. "In the 250,000 measurements received from the aircraft, we can see stick positions, rudder positions, internal engine temperature, brake pressures and more. You name it, we see it all in the mission control room in real time. It is far more information than the pilot could ever possibly know while flying the aircraft."

Once a mission is over, the flight test engineers can access the data from their personal computers for a more detailed analysis, Mr. Cronk said. The data is electronically transferred down to the Integrated Test Force's facility here, where it is put on a storage system.

"Because there is so much data coming from the aircraft in flight, we could not possibly look at all of it in real time," Mr. Cronk said. "The engineers can go back and look at specific aspects of the test and get a better feel for the aircraft. In the future, the flight test team can compare data received 10 missions ago and compare it to present performance to see the changes and improvements they have made."

The first aircraft is being tested in Fort Worth, Texas, and is scheduled to arrive here in September for testing, Ms. Bergren said. The second aircraft delivered from Lockheed will be a short takeoff and vertical landing variant, which will go to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. The first conventional takeoff and landing variant to represent Air Force specifications is set to arrive here in 2009.

"The new control room is the first control room that will be able to support the F-35," Ms. Bergren said. "We plan to build three more control rooms, which will enable us to conduct four F-35 test missions at the same time and receive data from each one independently. Some of those missions will have more than one F-35 in them."

The good flying weather, proximity to the lake beds and the infrastructure of the test facilities make Edwards an ideal place to test the F-35, Mr. Cronk said.

"Edwards is also close to other ranges in the Southwestern United States," he said. "Some missions will fly over Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and over the ocean. We can receive data from that location as if the aircraft were sitting on the ramp here."

Edwards will have five F-35's permanently assigned here in the future for developmental testing and up to three Naval variants visiting, Ms. Bergren said.

"This is the best place to do 'engine-out' testing of a single engine aircraft," she said. "Engine-out testing involves shutting down the engine in flight to prove that the aircraft can restart the engine in flight. If the engine does not restart, the lake bed provides a suitable place to land the aircraft."

The new control room is unique because it is entirely personal computer based, Ms. Bergren said. It is the next generation beyond the control rooms used for the F-22A Raptor. It is larger and capable of processing more information per second.

Ms. Bergren said the control room has performed well in acceptance test runs. During the tests, engineers in the control room received information from a mission simulator. They ran through the information cards and communicated with each other as if it were a real mission.

"After the commissioning on Wednesday, we want to start doing rehearsal missions as soon as possible," Ms. Bergren said. "Rehearsals will be conducted using simulations and data played back from Fort Worth F-35 testing. We expect the aircraft to arrive in September for live aircraft test support missions using the new mission control room."

The JSF system design and development phase is scheduled to end in 2013, but further testing is likely beyond that, Ms. Bergren said.

"Making the control room a reality for JSF has been challenging and a lot of fun," she said. "I think we have created an awesome control room that will be able to support the F-35 for the life of the program."

Source: USAF Edwards AFB Press Release by Senior Airman Jason Hernandez

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