POINT MUGU, Calif. –
Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 30, the “Bloodhounds” based at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, California, took possession May 31 of a distinct airframe, the Navy’s one-of-a-kind NC-20G. On the surface, the twin engine jet looks similar to other Gulfstream IVs, designed for airlift and logistics support of personnel, senior leadership and dignitaries; but the Bloodhound’s new bird, BH 500, has undergone substantial modifications to complete their Cast Glance (CG) mission.
Currently performed by a specially modified P-3C AIP+ Orion, BH 300, the CG role is unique to VX-30, Point Mugu and the Navy worldwide. Depending on the duration of its assigned mission, the CG Orion’s crew consists of two to four pilots, up to two Flight Engineers (FEs), one Naval Flight Officer (NFO), observers, as well as a team of government civilian range support personnel. Using distinctive camera and tracking equipment, BH 300 collects vital test data in support of various agencies that include NASA, DoD, Missile Defense Agency (MDA), as well as private sector customers at various locations across the globe.
However, with the fleet P-3 sundowning and standup of the P-8 Poseidon, Orion airframes and parts are quickly becoming a rarity; BH 300 was originally accepted by the Navy on July 14, 1987, making increased maintenance man-hours an inevitability. Furthermore, the maritime patrol community’s cancellation of the P-3 training pipeline at Patrol Squadron (VP) 30 Pro’s Nest Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) means that trained and proficient Orion aircrew will also become a scarce commodity. These factors necessitate the procurement and utilization of a dedicated special mission airframe capable of reliable worldwide deployment. VX-30 will fly its NC-20G to meet this challenge.
Originally established as Naval Weapons Test Squadron Point Mugu in 1995, the command was re-designated VX-30 in 2002. As a part of Naval Test Wing Pacific, VX-30’s mission is to support and conduct test, evaluation and fleet operations in the Point Mugu Sea Range that encompasses more than 30,000 square miles of sea and airspace just off the Southern California coastline. The unit’s NC-20G will complement this mission well.
Using civilian contract maintenance professionals and flown with a truncated crew of two pilots, one NFO, one observer and range support team, BH 500 will quickly be put to good use. Working with Naval Test Wing Pacific and Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, the Bloodhounds have stood up a team dedicated to handling the acceptance and integration of a new airframe to their existing stable of Lockheed P-3C Orions, Lockheed KC-130T Hercules and Northrup-Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes. This entails the creation of the squadron’s own NATOPS qualification syllabus to train active duty aviators, liaising with NAVFAC and Naval Base Ventura County for hangar renovation and the activation of a new site, and operations scheduling with customers eager to utilize the output of the NC-20G’s capabilities.
“The airplane flies how you would expect a luxury passenger airplane to handle,” said Lt. Cmdr. Spencer Smith, a 2021 U.S. Naval Test Pilot School graduate and one of the Bloodhounds’ first pilots to qualify on the airframe. “It has positive stability and smooth, damped control responses for maximum cabin comfort during maneuvering. The airplane also comes with multiple redundancies and safety features to include ADS-B [Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast], GPWS [Ground Proximity Warning System], TCAS [Traffic Collision Avoidance System], artificial stall warning and stick pusher, and weather radar. While these characteristics were not necessarily intended for our operational needs at VX-30, the handling qualities and features will have a profound effect on our flight test support capabilities at high altitudes.”
The airframe has a 78-foot wingspan, two Rolls-Royce Mk611-8 engines with a guaranteed minimum rating of 13,850 pounds of thrust, 5,000-plus nautical mile range, a 45,000-foot ceiling, and a standard cruise speed of .80M. A typical mission flight can reach up to seven hours in duration. Most flights are conducted from VX-30’s home field of Point Mugu but detachments will take the squadron’s new aircraft throughout the Pacific as well as across the continent and abroad. Detachments can yield up to 30 hours of flight time in relatively short windows, and there are always several on the books. VX-30’s NC-20G is a welcome addition to the West Coast test community and will be a valuable asset for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation for decades to come.
Written by Lt. Cmdr. Alexander “Roadtrip” Buschor, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 30.