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Thursday, November 03, 2011
Air Force modernization takes B-2 to North Pole
by Kate Blais, 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Taking off from the flightline here Oct. 27, a B-2 Spirit travelled to the top of the world and back again on a mission to test the aircraft's hardware and software upgrades, endurance and performance at extremely high latitudes.
The more than 18-hour mission to the North Pole and back to Edwards AFB consisted of developmental and operational test points to prove that the B-2's software upgrade works well and is able to operate anywhere in the world.
Although the B-2 has been to the North Pole in simulated tests, this is the first time the aircraft has physically travelled there, making this a milestone in B-2 testing.
"A goal of the test force is to prevent a situation where an aircraft experiences an anomaly with a new system for the first time in an operational mission," said Lt. Col. Hans Miller, the 419th Flight Test Squadron commander. "This flight to the North Pole could reveal data and lessons that were not seen in a lab or simulated environment."
"This is the first time the B-2 has operated at this extreme of a latitude before and (I believe) the longest flight so far for this hardware and this software," said Maj. Michael Deaver, the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron's B-2 Extremely High Frequency Test director. "Being a global bomber, it may be required to operate at extreme latitudes, if not where the target is, but possibly for the flight path it'll take to get there."
The mission worked to verify that the software upgrades -- which include new communication and new navigation equipment -- still allows the B-2 to operate effectively anywhere in the world.
"The main objective of this mission is to look at how the software and hardware works over a long duration (of time)," said 1st Lt. Derek Moore, a 419th Flight Test Squadron test conductor. "We try to push the limits of the aircraft and come back and make sure that operationally it can still meet objectives."
The operational portion of this mission consisted of releasing four unguided BDU-38 bombs over the Precision Impact Range Area at Edwards AFB after more than 18 hours of flight. According to Deaver, one of the biggest objectives was to make sure that the aircraft knew where it was and that it could get to a weapons release point.
To get to that point, extensive coordination throughout the 419th FLTS, Bomber Combined Task Force and other Edwards AFB assets, as well as outside support including the Department of State, was necessary for a successful mission.
"Support from the Air Force Flight Test Center allowed us to use the Speckled Trout (412th Flight Test Squadron) as a resource, which served as an airborne control room and communication hub," said Jeremiah Farinella, a 419th FLTS test conductor and operations engineer. "That allowed us to troubleshoot some issues that we saw when we were airborne and provided us communication back to Edwards, which was essential to our success and allowed the pilots to stay focused on the mission."
Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., provided a KC-135 tanker aircraft for aerial refueling support. The tanker refueled the B-2 over Alberta, Canada, to ensure that the B-2 could complete the endurance portion of the mission to the North Pole and then back to Edwards, said Farinella.
The B-2 was further supported with fuel from a second KC-135 from Edwards AFB in the R-2508 Isabella Aerial Refueling Track, which helped ensure that the B-2 could complete the operational portion of the Polar mission.
"We had an incredible team that went with us, lessened our workload greatly, and contributed to the fact that we were able to get up there and back safely," said Maj. Andrew Murphy, a 419th FLTS B-2 experimental test pilot. "(The team) really lowered the risk of the mission for us."
Flight testing helps find problems early on so that they can be fixed before aircraft end up in the field, continued Murphy.
"The warfighter needs to know where they can and can't go," said Murphy. "Essentially, we've proven the fact that they can get up into those (high) latitudes safely and effectively. That previously was a question mark."
"The trained team of aircrew, engineers, technicians, (and) program managers from government and the contractor will take data from the flight to sustain the capability of the B-2 in all regions of the globe," said Miller.
"Given that we are developmental test, we have an early stake at finding deficiencies," said Cheryl Caluya, a 775th Test Squadron EHF project engineer. "We're making sure that the B-2 is still capable of what it could do yesterday."
At Edwards AFB, ensuring that the B-2 maintains its legacy capabilities contributes to the greater Air Force mission.
"It's a very good cross-check to ensure that we maintain global vigilance and can strike any target in the world at any time, providing overall global combat power," Farinella said.