586th Flight Test Squadron hits testing milestone
HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- A highly modified Air Force C-12J with an inert Laser Maverick on the belly of its fuselage is flying after a testing mission Aug. 26, 2010. The Laser Maverick is an air-to-ground missile that can seek out laser-designated targets. This is the first time the 586th Flight Test Squadron has tested external stores on the modified C-12J, which is normally a “people mover.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Joshua Turner)
from the 49th Wing Public Affairs
11/1/2010 - HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- The 586th Flight Test Squadron, part of Air Force Materiel Command's 46th Test Group, recently hit an aviation milestone when the unit completed flight testing of an inert missile, the LTGM-65 Laser Maverick, currently under development by Raytheon Missile Systems.
Air Force testers have flown many variants of the air-to-ground missile over the years, but the significance of this testing was the aircraft used to carry it: an Air Force C-12J.
Normally a "people mover," this C-12, nicknamed Ms. Mable, is an Air Force version of a Beech 1900C airliner that has been highly modified to support agile, low-cost testing of advanced avionics and weapons.
Perhaps the most unusual modification is the addition of two pylons and bomb racks that enable the aircraft to carry test items, like the Laser Maverick, on the belly of its fuselage.
"This is a really unique test capability ... because you usually don't find missiles underneath a transport aircraft," said Capt. Reid Larson, Chief Flight Test Engineer with the 586th FLTS. He also noted that the aircraft does not launch the missiles; it only carries them into the air for testing purposes.
"[This capability] provides a much needed low-cost, long-loiter capability for weapons and avionics development," added Lt. Col. Monte Cannon, the 586th FLTS commander.
Captain Larson explained that the concept of placing bomb racks on the aircraft was born about three years ago when the need was identified for testing of external stores at slower speeds and at significantly lower cost than testing on a typical fighter aircraft.
"There is a real need for an inexpensive way to conduct risk-reduction flight testing," he said. "Testing early in the development helps work out the major bugs in a new weapon or system before loading it on a fighter that costs much more to operate."
According to Colonel Cannon, the C-12 is cheaper to operate per flight hour largely because it consumes significantly less fuel than an F-15 or F-16, for example.
"There is obviously a tradeoff here," he said. "We can't go nearly as fast as a fighter, but that's fine in the early stages of testing."
He explained that once the test item has proven itself during this early testing, it gets flown on the aircraft from which it will be employed.
"A team of experienced pilots and engineers across the 46th Test Group initially began a study to assess the feasibility of attaching bomb racks to the C-12J," said Captain Larson. "The team determined that it was not only something that we could do, but also should do. It made sense from a technical perspective and from a cost-savings perspective."
What followed was a two-year design and modification effort, followed by a year-long test program to verify that the addition of the bomb racks did not affect the behavior of the airplane during flight.
The recently-completed Laser Maverick testing marks the first time of this new capability has been used. The program aimed to show that this variant of the Maverick could successfully track a fast moving target illuminated by a laser.
"The need to strike mobile targets was identified as an urgent need for current operations in theater," said 2nd Lt. Rob Erickson, lead flight test engineer for the program. "By any measure, this was an enormously successful demonstration. It was truly a team effort with outstanding support from the White Sands Missile Range as well as numerous members of Team Holloman."
One of Holloman's Remotely Piloted Aircraft Flying Training Units also assisted in the testing.
"We were especially excited to work with members of 6th Reconnaissance Squadron who operated an MQ-1 Predator to laser designate the simulated target as part of the testing," said Colonel Cannon.
Eric Peterson, Laser Maverick lead engineer with Raytheon, explained that upgrades to guidance and control software, which help get the missile to its intended target, will make up the next generation Laser Maverick.
"This was an important milestone for us," said Mr. Peterson. "The 586th team here was really focused on the outcome and made sure that we got a realistic test of the missile."
He added that this test is an important risk-reduction milestone before full development and operational tests commence later this year.
According to Captain Larson, the squadron doesn't have long to savor this success. There are plans in the works to certify several other technologies for flight on Ms. Mable.
"We're looking to eventually test targeting pods, such as LITENING and SNIPER, that would allow us to zoom in on, track and even laser designate targets just like many of our fighters can," he said.
Each of these technologies will provide a key capability to support the squadron's test customers.
"In the end, this is about providing world class testing that helps cost-effectively verify new combat capability," said Colonel Cannon. "Our aim is to help get things right before the weapon or system gets to the fight."