Edwards AFB Looks Back at F-35 ITF Testing in 2015


2016-03-05 The F-35 Integrated Test Force is based at Pax River and Edwards AFB and is a completely integrated test effort.

In our interview with Andrew Mack, ITF chief test engineer, at Pax River, he discussed how integrated the two teams were in practice>

We talk and work together every day. A lot of times, people want to draw a distinction between Pax and Edwards, and that is really not applicable to this program. What is unique about the F-35 program really is the scope and scale of what we are doing.

It is not only different from what we have done before, but frankly there are some very real-world throughput issues. By having both Pax and Edwards integrated, we can expand the test space.

Let me give you an example. The data generated and communicated by the F-35 is unprecedented. This means that from a testing point of view we run up against telemetry limits. What we can use in DoD-related telemetry from the planes in flight is really pushed into a very tight box. We are limited to four or five airplanes at a time as the max that we can operate for the kind of bandwidth we are pulling off of F-35s at any given time.

The test data from what we call the orange instrumentation on the plane — specialized flight test instrumentation like pressure transducers and load strain gauges and things like that — are part of the significant bandwidth we transmit. And, when combined with bus data, it is indeed a very large bandwidth compared to our legacy programs.

In the following video, Edwards AFB members of the ITF highlight the efforts and progress with regard to the F-35 from their perspective, including the integration of F-35s with one another, and working with legacy aircraft.

EDWARDS AFB LOOKS BACK AT F-35 ITF TESTING IN 2015 from SldInfo.com on Vimeo.

In our discussion with Maack, a number of key points were highlighted about the program.

First, developmental testing goes on throughout the life cycle of a combat air program. He noted that developmental testing with the F/A-18 was ongoing and, with a software upgradeable airplane such as the F-35, developmental testing would not end until the program did.

Second, the F-35 program is more complex than programs before it, and they had to craft a test approach that fit the complexity of the aircraft and program itself. The integration of both Edwards and Pax to conduct ongoing synergistic testing was a key point in that direction.

Third, the program is one of “spiral development” in which combat F-35 Type/Model/Series (T/M/S) airplanes emerge throughout the process to operate as effective combat assets, even while the developmental testing for all three types of F-35s continue. Put bluntly, the F-35B in the hands of the Marines is a fully combat-capable asset that will evolve over time.

Fourth, the airplane is the most integrated combat jet ever built, in terms of systems, fusion, and software. And, even though integrated, it is a very robust system in which cascading issues from any particular component or system really has limited effect on the overall F-35 air combat system. This robustness is found in the integrated systems’ ability to continue functioning in the presence of component failures. Thus, it is a safe combat aircraft.

Fifth, to put the team together required a different cultural approach, whereby specialists must act as integrators across the airframe and avionic components of the airplane. This is clearly different from legacy programs.

Sixth, the decade of putting together the unique and innovative approach to shaping the F-35 fleet is laying down the foundation for the decade ahead in which the services and partners generate the combat experience — which will then lead to further innovations and developmental testing.

Put bluntly, if you waiting for the end of developmental testing come back in 30-40 years.

Meanwhile, the F-35 fleet will have reshaped air combat operations.