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This eventuated into the Tacit Blue program — a highly successful flight demonstration program that provided vital data for the subsequent B-2 bomber program. Their remit was to exploit the VLO technology then being demonstrated in Phase 1 of the XST program, and establish a new set of capabilities for the Air Force as quickly as possible and in absolute secrecy.
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In addition to initiating conceptual studies into a manned strike-aircraft program, referred to as the Advanced Technology Aircraft ATA program, the team also identified the need to develop, in parallel with the XST program, methods of locating, tracking, and striking targets in a way commensurate with maintaining a VLO profile. In response to a request for further information from General Slay, a nine-point document was provided to the SPO, from the vice commander of AFSC, which outlined various stealth-driven programs that would comply with such criteria.
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One particular line item referred to the development of a forward-looking infrared FLIR turret. The engine selection process began on January 17, , and 11 days later a wind tunnel program was inaugurated, with test results from the Ames Research Center being made available on August 16 that same year. During Senior Spud, aircraft had the left side of the fuselage and the inside of the twin fins covered with a textured metallic surface that reflected light in a unique way.
Only four flights were made with this material applied. The Air Combat Command logo is on the tail. This sequence of four images depicts the demise of HB on May 4, On November 1, , production was authorized, and the program was accorded the classified code name Senior Trend. Englund, and Col Eldred D. Production timescales for this revolutionary aircraft program were tight — its first flight was planned for July , hence the last three digits of the prototype's serial number allocation of this serial number in the Black World was to have repercussions when the aircraft was later integrated into the wider Air Force, as several sequential serials were replicated by other aircraft developed in the White World.
On January 1, , construction of a full-scale, wooden mock-up began. Eleven months later, on December 3, the assembly was completed, and functional engineers then used this representation to determine where to situate various aircraft subsystems such activities have now been superseded by advances in computer software.
These numbers grew as preparations for the first operational squadron got underway. Upon delivery from Burbank via C-5 Galaxy to Area 51 on January 17, , the prototype F Aircraft underwent reassembly and a detailed checkout of all onboard systems. It made its first flight five months later. Aircraft sported a unique camouflage paint scheme during the first ten flights of its test program.
Note the large test instrumentation nose boom. Back at Burbank, the Skunk Works ran into many construction problems associated not just with developing a revolutionary airframe, but also with the integration of advanced avionics systems that were either in their infancy or not yet even fielded. Perhaps not surprisingly, the planned first flight date consistently slipped throughout and into early So, aircraft was returned to roost about 15 minutes after takeoff — the undercarriage remaining down throughout the flight.
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During this flight Farley retracted the gear and instantly the aircraft yawed. Realizing there was a stability issue, he landed, and after some debate the engineers agreed that the tail fins did not have enough authority and therefore needed to be larger. By this time three of the other FSD aircraft had already had the smaller fins mounted, and this potentially had all the hallmarks of seriously delaying the entire test program. Flight-testing continued, however. After completion of the tenth flight the prototype was laid up for four months, during which time various modifications were made, including installation of a partial heat shield.
The engineers had also devised a fix for the yaw issue by adding fillets to the leading and trailing edges of the existing fins, thereby increasing their overall area by percent, yet still retaining the original RCS spec. Aircraft and both had their stabs replaced at Area 51, whilst the rest of the fleet had modified fins fitted as they came down the assembly line. Having had its earlier camouflage scheme removed, returned to work sporting an overall gray paint scheme in late October The aircraft was air-refuel qualified by Skip Anderson on November 17 that year — an action that accelerated the test program by increasing flight duration time.
The planned target goals for IOC were to have available ten deployable combat aircraft, ten fully trained operational pilots, three full-scale weapons for delivery Mk, GBU, SUU, and the goal of a B , two training weapons BDU and Mk , a 6g load limit, and ability for level delivery.
As flight-handling and envelope expansion tests continued on the prototype, FSD-2 serial carried out a series of initial airborne RCS tests. This involved the application of sheets of BX RAM radar-absorbent material , and the flight tests, conducted by Maj Roger Moseley, proved extremely encouraging. On June 11, , aircraft became the first F to have a radar-absorbent coat of BX applied robotically.
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Work then began on upgrading the rest of the fleet. FSD-3 serial was the dedicated avionics testbed, whilst serial was earmarked for exhaustive low observability testing. These tests continued against an F-4 Phantom II, before broadening out to include RCS testing both cued and uncued, against ground and airborne threats. Eleven of the first 13 pilots to fly the F are pictured in front of Aircraft Missing are Skip Holm and Bob Riedenauer.
This picture grab from previously unseen 16mm cinefilm was shot inside an Area 51 hangar. The odd designation for the F was similarly concocted to enable pilots to record flight time in their Air Force logs without uncleared administrators becoming aware of Senior Trend. Note the Israeli Air Force pilot, center. Paul F. Crickmore collection. On April 24 that year, an F made four radar passes against the aircraft while it was being piloted by Morgenfeld. Two days later the same aircraft saw an F make 13 passes against it, and by July 23 Fs, Fs, and an EF had conducted similar threat tests.
Thereafter, was used alternately between low-observability tests and the integration and evaluation of improvements made to the navigation and weapons delivery systems. FSD-5, aircraft , was the dedicated infrared acquisition designation system IRADS testbed, and its first flights were conducted in association with achieving the successful integration and operation of this unique weapons delivery system. It was placed in temporary storage on completion of a sortie flown by Roger Moseley on September 23, At the end of November , aircraft was dismantled at Area 51 and flown back to Burbank in the belly of a C The operational shortcomings of a visual targeting system had long been appreciated.
Thus, when next flew from Area 51, on September 4, , it was equipped with an LO radar system. On completing its final flight in this configuration on December 12, every aspect of the system had been evaluated in 34 sorties — the RCS of the antenna and radome, its ability to perform the ground-mapping task, and threat evaluation during system operation. Those interviewed who were involved in the program have remarked that the system was incredibly stealthy, however it was not deployed on the fleet for reasons of cost and on the basis that stealth, as a concept, had yet to prove itself operationally.
As flight-testing progressed, it was determined that elevon control power was less than predicted, with the aircraft becoming increasingly more difficult to manage at higher AOAs when configured with high-aft CG settings. To regain this loss of control power, FSD-1 was grounded between December 21, and January 4, , during which time wing leading-edge extensions were added. During nine subsequent flights in this configuration, the modification was judged to have achieved its stated objectives; however, the USAF again decided not to modify the exterior of production aircraft.
Instead, fuel sequencing was changed, and wing fuel was used first, thereby avoiding degraded elevon control suffered during high alpha maneuvers and aft CG conditions. Subsequently, the structural engineers decided that, in any event, flying the aircraft in aft CG conditions made little difference to increased airframe life. It is seen here being brought down to subzero temperatures, having first been sprayed with water.
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An additional responsibility carried out by Lockheed test pilots was to complete all functional check flights FCFs for each F as they arrived at Area 51, prior to being commissioned by the USAF. The first production aircraft due to be received in this way was ; like all Fs, it was airlifted to the test area via a C-5 Galaxy, reassembled, and then subjected to various ground checks before, on April 20, , company test pilot Bob Riedenauer advanced the throttles to take the aircraft on its first flight. Aircraft rotated as planned, but immediately after liftoff everything went horribly wrong.
The nose yawed violently; it then pitched up, and completed a snap roll that left it on its back before impacting the ground. It was nothing short of a miracle that Riedenauer survived; the F, however, was totally wrecked. This, however, caused a real yaw departure, which, to the computer, was perceived as pitch.
source link A full-up elevons response was therefore communicated to the flight control surfaces, resulting in what so easily could have been a fatal accident. Riedenauer suffered two broken legs and other injuries that ended his test pilot career.
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A production, performance, and quality audit was initiated by Lockheed, after which the gyro connectors were redesigned to physically prevent misinstallation. Not all flights progressed seamlessly through the test card, however, as Maj John Beesley discovered early on the afternoon of September 25, Shortly into the sortie, and following a pull-up maneuver at 10,ft, the left fin completely failed. The incident, which was filmed from a chase plane, ended without further incident, as Beesley retained control of the aircraft.
Over the years it had several different paint schemes applied, including a repeat of this scheme in October to mark the retirement of the F fleet. When one day a scorpion was found and captured in one of the hangars, it was decided that the scorpion image would be aptly symbolic as, like the F, it could strike without warning. The diameter of the orange disc fell just within the outside edges of the two bomb bay doors. Since the aircraft always had their bomb bays open when on the ground, it ensured that senior USAF officers who might have objected to the logo would not be able to see it.
The Skunk Works paint scheme was removed from the aircraft immediately after the celebrations had ended. Continued developments in improved radar absorbent coatings required them to be tested before being applied to the entire fleet. Having saved a highly valuable aircraft, and in so doing demonstrating outstanding pilot skill, Beesley was secretly awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. After aircraft retired, the test fleet was again boosted to five, when in February aircraft joined their ranks, having completed just 16 flights with the operational wing.
Following considerable rework, this aircraft became the testbed for Phase II of the Offensive Capability Improvement Program OCIP , which incorporated updates to improve pilot situational awareness and reduce workload. Since the time of the conceptual Have Blue program, Area 51 had served as host for low-observability flight-test operations, but, as elements of stealth ventured out from the Black World, it became possible to move the operation to a more amenable site. Therefore, the principal radar types to be deceived in order to execute the mission and significantly enhance survivability were airborne intercept, surface-to-air missile SAM , and radar-directed anti-aircraft artillery AAA , which typically operate on a wavelength of between 3 and 10cm.
The physics of radar scattering is largely dependent upon the relationship of size of the radar wavelength versus the physical size of its target. The engine inlet of the F is positioned above the wing, and the inlet duct curves very slightly down to the compressor, thereby providing it with an element of shielding. Further reductions in RCS values are achieved by placing a grid over the inlet, the.