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July 27, 2005

Raptors aloft!

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An F/A-22 Raptor, flown by Maj. John Teichert, releases a guided bomb unit-32 1,000-pound joint direct attack munitions at supersonic speed for the first time near California's Panamint Mountain range. Major Teichert is a test pilot assigned to the 411th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Darin Russell)

Hi-res, click here.

For the Aviation Geeks among us! From an email:

Subject: F-22 Raptor Pilot Report

Subject: Pilot Report F-22 Raptor

Aircraft: 4002 Date: 10 June 2005
Flight: 2-664 Takeoff: 1042L
Pilot: Randy Neville Land: 1141L
Test Conductor: N/A Flt Time: 1.0 Hr
Chase : JB Brown ECS: File 54
OFP: 54


This was the final flight for 4002 before it returns to storage. It was also my final Raptor flight before moving to Seattle. The flight went smoothly, although I encountered some highly localized showers upon exiting the aircraft.

As I leave the program with a bit over 600 hours in this amazing machine, I realize just how fortunate I have been to have the opportunity to be involved in the development of the incredible blend of technologies that the Raptor represents.

I can remember the early days of working with the engineering IPT's and helping with the training of the First Flight control room team. When Paul Metz got airborne in 4001 for the first time, I was the "Voice of Raptor", narrating events to flight line guests over a PA system and to various program sites via a live video feed. I was fortunate to fly the first flight on 4005, which was also the first time we flew with the Block 3.0 software and actually demonstrated sensor fusion. The 2-year surge to complete envelope expansion was quite a ride, including the Mach 2.0 split-s's and even the -11g fini-flight on 4003. Some may express concern at the pace of developing new technology, but frankly, looking back as EMD slows down and operational units ramp up, it is hard to believe how far the program has come. From the days of 1998 when we had an annual goal of 183 flight hours, to the massive ramp up to support the envelope expansion surge along with Initial OT&E when we flew over 2800 hours in FY2004, we have had a constant string of challenges. Hidden to many, but obvious to those of us on the program, every single one of those flight hours has a story behind it, punctuated by the dedication, ingenuity, frustration, exhilaration, brains, and sweat of a huge team of motivated professionals. It has been an honor to be associated with this program and with all the professionals everywhere on the team. Thanks for the ride.


Ya wanna read those - hit the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry!

FYI, for your reading pleasure (or not), I have attached an article that I originally drafted as a potential light-hearted, PR-type article for casual perusal. It is notably non-technical, and has nothing to do with the flight today, but for lack of anything better to do with the article, I stuck it here. Enjoy.

You've probably known someone who could be categorized as a "layman's philosopher". You know - the type of person who can condense life's vagaries into a bumper sticker slogan. The great baseball hall-of-famer Yogi Berra was a gold mine of such philosophy. Some of his more memorable comments were:

"It's like deja vu all over again", and
"It ain't over till it's over".
Or, my personal favorite: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Well, speaking of catch phrases, our original concepts of "minimize housekeeping" and "carefree maneuvering", although not stated with Yogi's flare for hidden eloquence, have perfectly captured the essence of the F-22 airframe. It makes me think that we as test pilots could be more descriptive in our evaluations. We describe this marvel of technology with such mundane, techno-greenish descriptions as "very responsive", "has good damping", or "matches predictions", when what we really mean is "This baby flies like a dream."

The ringer that this aircraft has been put through would make most rational pilots cringe. We have done full aft stick split-S maneuvers, starting at over Mach 2, to see if flying qualities and structural loads were ok. They were, so we did it again with a weapon bay door open. Then we did it again while firing a missile. Oh, please… stop the madness!

Well, actually, the airplane did not seem too concerned at all about the crazy maneuvering it was forced to endure. While at 60° angle of attack, cycling controls to maximize horsepower extraction, and banging the throttles from idle to AB, most pilots would run away screaming that it's just wrong to treat an airplane that way. But the engines never coughed and the airplane flew benignly on. The zero speed tail slides, and the aircraft simply flops down and smoothly recovers. During high-G maneuvering and abruptly throw in full ailerons, and the airplane consistently gives you the best roll rate available, without going out of control or over stressing parts of the structure. There is some pretty cosmic stuff the flight controls are doing to make all that happen

Even more impressive to me, I have had a glimpse of what the future of air combat holds, seeing how this exceptional airframe will be mated to an avionics suite that will provide the pilot an unprecedented amount of information. I think of this airplane as a flying antenna, soaking information all around it. A major part of the capability of this airplane comes from sensor fusion. Sensor Fusion is one of those key phrases associated with the Raptor. It yields a capability that is a leap in avionics technology. So…Sensor Fusion….what's up with that ?

"90% of the game is half mental."

Allow me a brief semi-technical excursion. The concept of sensor fusion is usually simplistically defined as taking target information from multiple sensors and fusing - i.e. filtering, evaluating, and combining - that information to present to the pilot a very intuitive display of a highly defined target. As the name implies, target information is received from the individual sensors, develops track files, and then fuses that track information. It evaluates the kinematics and identification data from the sensor reports and determines if multiple targets are present or if the sensors are seeing the same target. The sensors are typically divided among 3 major subsystems: the radar, the Electronic Warfare suite, and the Communication, Navigation, and Identification suite. The integration of the various components of the avionics suite only begins with a fused track. Then some real brain power takes over. Mission software, without any further actions by the pilot, evaluates the position, maneuvering, and threat potential of the target and decides how accurately the target should be tracked, how frequently the track should be updated, and if another sensor should be used to better track or identify the target. The sensors are then re-tasked to get further information on that target, and the entire closed-loop process continues. In other words, it is not just target information that is fused, but rather the sensors themselves that are fused. It becomes transparent to the pilot what the various sensors are doing - they simply go about their business of autonomously collecting the best target information available.

So, what does all this mean to the pilot?

"You can observe a lot by watching."

A key point is buried in this discussion. The entire closed-loop process of detecting, evaluating, updating tracks is performed automatically. The pilot no longer spends time adjusting his radar controls, then looking at his radar display, and then repeating the process with his EW controls and displays. Sensor fusion operates continuously, requiring no pilot action in order to develop an intuitive God's-eye view of the airspace. The end result is that the pilot is presented a tremendous amount of information with very low workload. As we like to say, the avionics suite allows the pilot to be a tactician, not a sensor operator or data analyst. Or, in pilot-speak, it saves me lots of brain cells for the really complex stuff back in the office, like trying to comprehend Travel Manager software. The information is presented to the pilot on a glass cockpit, consisting of three 6" x 6" and one 8" x 8"color displays, with symbols that are shaped and color-coded according to their identification as friendly, enemy, or unknown targets.

Well, how does the F-22 avionics perform their magic of seeing everybody, closely watching the important guys, and occasionally updating the unimportant guys? (Sort of like the intriguing thermos bottle mystery: Keeps the hot things hot, and the cold things cold, but… how do it know?).

Most of the magic takes place via massive parallel processing in the Common Integrated Processors, of CIP's. These are racks that contain multiple modules, many with dual 32-bit microprocessors. The processing may be optimized for signal processing, data manipulation, or other functions, with data shuffled around on various data busses. The massive amount of processing gives us a lot of amazing capability, but it also can be a nightmare making all the 0's and 1's talk to each other. Throw in the vibrations and temperatures associated with slipping the surly bonds, and you have a local area network that would make even Bill Gates sleepless in Seattle.

So given all that technical background, how have avionics flights gone?

"It was hard to have a conversation - there were too many people talking."

Yogi must have been trying to do flight test in the AtlantaCenterairspace when he said that. On our early avionics flights from Marietta, GA, I launched into what must have been prime time for Delta Airlines. Ground delays had been caused by airframe and avionics problems, most of which had been seen before. It is interesting to note that the line between airframe and avionics problems blurs a bit with the F-22. The avionics must properly talk to various subsystem controllers to keep everything running smoothly. (ie the good news…the F-22 is highly integrated. But the bad news is…the F-22 is highly integrated.)

In any case, those early flights identified numerous issues that have been resolved over the years. Since that time, we have thoroughly evaluated all the sensors and the software that integrates all their information. We have proven some amazing systems, such as the In flight Data Link, that allows us to silently communicate with the other members of our formation. They could be miles away, unseen and unheard, yet each pilot will know the exact position, fuel state, weapons info, and targeting information, all without speaking a word over the secure voice channel. Pretty powerful capability when heading into harm's way.

Looking ahead, I get very excited about matching this outstanding air vehicle to a powerful integrated avionics suite. I have a coffee cup on my desk that I got as a souvenir at the Yarborough Air show in 1988. I had a chance to get a demo of some early helmet mounted cueing systems, and got the coffee cup which says "I flew the future". Well, looking at this leap in technology represented by the Raptor, it compels me to put a positive spin on another of Yogi's observations as it relates to air combat:

"The future ain't what it used to be."


Dusty sez:

Amazing, isn't it? I remember the Eagle coming on line and people were pretty impressed but this is the difference between that jet's '57 Chevy technology and today's Lambourgini Countach.


John | Permalink | Comments (5) | Aircraft
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