U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Training Test Pilots of the Jet and Space Ages

In 1957, the flight test school formally changed its name to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. That same year, Marine Corps Maj. John Glenn Jr. (Class 12) set a new coast-to-coast speed record at an average of 725.55 miles per hour flying an F8U-1P Crusader fighter, and the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1.

The Jet Age reached a peak, and the Space Age had begun—and USNTPS was there to make sure that the nation’s flight test pilots, flight officers and engineers were ready for both.

In the 1950s, the depth and breadth of the curriculum expanded to include jet performance, irreversible flight controls and armament and electronic testing. In 1958, the school extended the course of instruction to eight months. And when NASA announced its seven Mercury astronauts in 1959, USNTPS was very well represented with four alums on the roster: Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra.

The early 1960s saw the first major additions to USNTPS’ curriculum with the creation of a separate syllabus for rotary-wing instruction, an introduction to vertical takeoff and landing techniques and a soaring program.

USNTPS also saw its first Army graduate, Capt. John Foster (Class 28). During this time, the school also published its first manuals for helicopter performance testing and rotary flying qualities.

Today, the school’s rotary syllabus for military pilots is the only one of its kind in the U.S., and for this reason serves as the Army’s test pilot school.

The end of the decade saw an entire Apollo mission crewed by USNTPS graduates when Apollo 12 took Pete Conrad (Class 20), Richard Gordon (Class 18) and Alan Bean (Class 26) to the moon in November 1969.

Advances in computer technology had an impact on training at USNTPS beginning in the 1970s with the introduction of aircraft capable of variable stability including the Calspan Learjet, which remains a cornerstone of flight training at the school today. Advancements in technology during that decade required the school to expand its curriculum again to incorporate airborne systems and to lengthen the syllabus from eight months to the current 11 months, which the school deemed sufficient to allow more flight opportunities and time to absorb class instruction and apply it in the air.

In 1983, the USNTPS family proudly received the Navy Unit Commendation for “extraordinary standards of excellence in safety, maintenance, curriculum advancement, and overall multi-nation test pilot training”—a citation that would have undoubtedly pleased Sherby. That same year, Lt. Colleen Nevius (Class 83) became the first female aviator to complete training at USNTPS.

The fall of the Soviet Union provided a unique opportunity for USNTPS technical collaboration when the Gromov Flight Research Institute near Moscow—Russia’s equivalent of Edwards Air Force Base—hosted nine instructors and staff in the summer of 1994. USNTPS returned the favor a year later when it hosted a Russian delegation.

That same year, the doors of USNTPS’ new schoolhouse first opened to welcome its first classes of students after its official dedication the previous year. The decade also saw the inauguration of the Short Course Department, which offers two-week introductory courses to the developmental flight test community.

In 2003, the Short Course Department added an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle course and considered the unique test requirements associated with fielding such systems. As the Navy significantly increased its investment in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) over the decade, USNTPS maintained its leading edge by incorporating unmanned test concepts into its syllabus for test pilots and engineers of the future.

In the 2010s, small UAS platforms such as the ScanEagle and MQ-8 Fire Scout gave way to larger UAS platforms like MQ-4C Triton and MQ-25 Stingray, and the establishment of the Navy’s first dedicated squadron to unmanned platforms—Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (UX) 24. UAS systems are increasingly being incorporated into the syllabus, culture and organization of USNTPS, today helping ensure students are up to speed on the growing field of unmanned aviation.

1) The Douglas F4D/F-6A Skyray jet fighter was in the school’s inventory from 1958 to 1969 (U.S. Navy photo). 2) USNTPS pilots flew the iconic Bell UH-1 Iroquois as part of the rotary-wing curriculum from 1963 to 1975 (U.S. Navy photo). 3) The school’s two X-26A Frigate gliders fly an average of 40 hours per year teaching students about high lift-and-drag evaluations, unpowered flying qualities and even aerobatics (U.S. Navy photo). 4) The variable-stability Learjet Model 24, developed by Calspan, appeared at USNTPS for the first time in mid-1981 (U.S. Navy photo). 5) USNTPS students flew the North American T-2 Buckeye trainer from 1972 to 2007. Today, one of these aircraft is preserved on the school grounds (U.S. Navy photo). 6) The T-38C Talon is USNTPS’ primary fixed-wing trainer; the school’s 10 aircraft fly a combined average total of 1,100 hours per year (U.S. Navy photo). 7) The USNTPS 11-month curriculum includes 530 hours of academic instruction in fixed-wing, rotary-wing and airborne/unmanned systems (U.S. Navy photo). 8) The school operates two U-6A Beavers as part of the Qualitative Evaluation program, which exposes students to the handling characteristics of a wide variety of unique aircraft (U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt). 9) An early-model F/A-18 Hornet taxies at NAS Patuxent River. U.S. (Navy photo).

As another decade dawns, USNTPS continues to evolve its curriculum to ensure graduates are capable of confronting the technical and programmatic challenges of the Naval Aviation Enterprise of today and tomorrow.

Today, USNTPS proudly provides instruction to Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force aviators, in addition to aviators and engineers from 17 partner nations, and civil service engineers across Naval Air Systems Command. The school accepts around 36 students at a time and runs two courses of 11 months each year. Its fleet of 44 fixed-wing, rotary-wing and unmanned aircraft is the most diverse in the Navy, encompassing 14 different type/model/series.

As it has since Sherby’s time, USNTPS continues to innovate in order to maintain its status as one of the world’s pre-eminent flight test educational institutions, dedicated to providing cutting-edge educational and flying opportunities.

Sources: United States Naval Test Pilot School Narrative History and Class Information, 1945 to 1982 and 1992 supplement; United States Naval Test Pilot School: 75 Years and Counting, 1945 to 2020

Global Sustainment Vision Overhauls I-level Maintenance Training by Standardizing ASM

Global Sustainment Vision and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFRC) have standardized intermediate level (I-level) maintenance qualification, certification and licensing (Q/C/L) processes within the Advanced Skills Management (ASM) system.

Qualifications for Sailors are now recognized across all Fleet Readiness Centers (FRCs), detachments and Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Departments (AIMDs) ashore and afloat, eliminating the need for remediation with a change in duty station and enabling quicker delivery of maintenance, repair and overhaul services to the fleet.

ASM was first introduced to the FRCs and detachments in 2010, followed by the AIMDs. The system changed the qualification, certification and licensing processes for I-level maintainers. It provided real-time access to training records that are critical for assigning qualified personnel to repair and maintain aircraft.

“ASM changed the way business was done. It gave us the ability to see the current qualifications of a Sailor in real-time allowing them to get to work more quickly,” said Mike Walter, the standardization team lead for the Global Sustainment Vision program.

Prior to the recent standardization, each individual unit was responsible for the development and upkeep of all qualifications. The unintended consequence of this was the need to retrain military maintainers due to variations in naming and methodologies between similar units. ASM couldn’t translate the variances and there was no central authority controlling the naming and descriptions of each Q/C/L. 

During Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class (AT2) Logan Watts’ first change of command, he lost two of his qualifications.

“It took me two to three months at my second command to get back up to speed. I thought a lot of that training was repetitious,” Watts said.

The Global Sustainment Vision team recognized the need for maintainers to be able to transfer their qualifications from one site to another and made ASM standardization a priority.

Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd class (AT2) Logan Watts, left, setting up calibration for De-Ice Test set at Fleet Readiness Center West (FRCW) DET Fallon, Nev. Right, Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd class (AO2) Ian Courtney and AO2 Tristan Rice complete a ready for issue inspection and move a SUU-79B/A to K-pool for issue. U.S. Navy photos by AZ2 Frederick Klink
AD2 Adam Sack, left, performs oil analysis checks on the spectrometer. Center, Aviation Machinist’s Mate Airman, (ADAN) Juvonni Headd disassembles a LAU-17F/A for inspection at FRCW DET Fallon. AT2 Zachary Smith, right, performs calibration checks on a De-Ice Test set. U.S. Navy photos by AZ2 Frederick Klink

“The first wave migrated 20 percent of Q/C/Ls into similar and already active Q/C/Ls. Another 20 percent were deleted because they were unnecessary,” Walter said. “We went on to review the remaining 60 percent and found more work could be done.”

By standardizing the requirements for certain qualifications the team was able to delete 40 percent of the listed requirements because they were repetitive. All qualifications are now under the sole control and responsibility of the I-level model manager at COMFRC and the fleet administrators at each site to maintain consistency and standardization moving forward.

A reduction in time required to requalify translates to an increase in time on task which can directly increase readiness.

Watts changed commands again in February, checking in at the Fleet Readiness Center West detachment in Fallon, Nevada. The ASM standardization allowed him to start work right away.

“I’m already set to take my exams for Collateral Duty Inspector. All I needed this time was a little on-the-job training,” he said.

“With this standardization initiative completed, Sailors and Marines reporting to a new I-level unit with previously held qualifications will have those reinstated. Removing the variance of training processes between units will have an average 90-percent reduction in time required to requalify,” Walter said.

“While we’re not done yet, I am encouraged by the improvements people are already seeing. When this is complete, it’ll be a game changer.”

Written by Kaitlin Wicker, a communications specialist for the Global Sustainment Vision. 

New Name, Same Commitment:
Global Sustainment Vision

To better align its focus with the Naval Sustainment System-Aviation (NSS-A), the Sustainment Vision 2020 program is now called the Global Sustainment Vision.

Global Sustainment Vision continues the program’s reforms at the Fleet Readiness Centers, engineering and maintenance, organizational-level and surge areas to complement NSS-A initiatives.

“The program has not changed its mission nor its focus, only its name. Our teams are still creating products and processes to equip military members and civilians to sustain Naval Aviation readiness,” said Keith Johnson, Global Sustainment Vision director.

“NSS-A really brought to light much of what we were already working on. It was great to have another program come alongside us and say, ‘yes, we need to fix this system,’” Johnson said.

In addition to the efforts spearheaded by NSS-A, Global Sustainment Vision continues refining and improving initiatives such as the Aircraft on Ground Cell and Maintenance Operations Center, total resource visibility, the capacity model, a web-enabled capabilities database, depot-level certification of military personnel, standardization of the Advanced Skills Management software, training gap closure, readiness modeling and parts forecasting, and logistics and engineering sustainment.

Each of these threads is interwoven with those of NSS-A to fill the seams and produce sustained readiness for Naval Aviation.

—Kaitlin Wicker  

Grampaw Pettibone

Gramps from Yesteryear:

September-October 2000

Illustration by Ted Wilbur

Lava Lament

A CH-53D Sea Stallion with a full load of troops on board was conducting insertion missions from an Army airfield to a landing zone in a lava field 6,560 feet above mean sea level. The pilot and copilot conducted hover power checks before departing the airfield. Winds at departure were 300 degrees at 10 knots, gusting to 15. The helo proceeded to the landing zone, dropped off the troops, returned to the airfield, took on another load and returned to the lava field.

On final approach, the copilot, who was at the controls, began a descent rate to establish the aircraft on glide slope for landing. Both the pilot and copilot were unaware they were experiencing a tailwind. The copilot slid the Sea Stallion to the left to avoid ground support vehicles located along the approach path.

The combined effects of being slow, with a tailwind, in an environment of high density altitude, and in a high gross weight configuration, placed the CH-53D in a hover-out-of-ground effect situation without sufficient power. The induced rate of descent exacerbated the situation, and the CH-53D began dropping to the ground uncontrollably. This is sometimes called “settling without power.”

Realizing the severity of the helo’s condition, the pilot (aircraft commander) pushed both speed control levers full forward in an attempt to increase power. The crew chief called for power and the aerial observer called for a waveoff. The collective was already at its upper limits as the pilot took over the controls. He tried to regain control by pushing the nose over and lowered the collective to execute a waveoff.

Instead, the helo struck the lava field short of the landing zone with little forward airspeed or vertical velocity. The tail rotor and left main mount struck lava rock. Simultaneously, the tail skid lodged in the lava rock causing it to fail aft. The tail rotor blades disintegrated on impact. The tail pylon separated from the aircraft, which then lifted 10 feet off the ground and began rotating counterclockwise.

The Sea Stallion struck the ground a second time and rolled nearly inverted. The engines continued to drive the main gear box and rotor head throughout the sequence, arcing the fuselage around until all the blades were completely sheared off from the rotor head.

Fortunately, this helo was equipped with three-point-restraint troop seats, and vertical deceleration forces were not sufficient to dislodge the seats. As a result, none of the crew and passengers sustained serious injuries.

Grampaw Pettibone says …

What a carousel ride that musta been! I’ll bet more than one heart leapt from chest to throat during that spin-around atop the lava field. The helo was flying at 30 to 40 knots at 100 feet above the ground on the approach. These numbers are consistent with a Sea Stallion when its hitting its Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization-prescribed parameters. Technically, it was the aerodynamic limitation imposed by the tailwind that did in the CH-53D. The pilots failed to determine the wind direction. Had they done so, they could have adjusted approach direction and stayed within the proper flight envelope. Situational awareness went by the board at a perilous moment.

Team Solves CH-53K Engine Integration Issues

Colored oil smoke indicates rotor wake and wind effects while external “tufts” adhere to the outside of the CH-53K King Stallion showing surface airflow during testing, which validated a modification mitigating exhaust gas re-ingestion.  (U.S. Navy photo)     

Industry and government engineers have mitigated an ongoing engine integration issue for the CH-53K King Stallion—the Marine Corps new heavy-lift helicopter.

This “tiger team” of experts from a variety of engineering backgrounds came together to find and optimize aircraft modifications using state-of-the-art computational modeling methodologies, risk management, flight test data and systems engineering tools.

“Bringing together the tiger team exemplifies the importance and purpose of an integrated test team,” said Col. Jack Perrin, program manager, Heavy Lift Helicopter Program Office. “It was great to see the team turn the corner for the program and produce a resolution to an ongoing problem. This was a priority for the Naval Air Systems Command, industry and the Marine Corps, and the team hit it out of the park.”

The program office oversees both the CH-53E Super Stallion, which is currently in use by the Marine Corps, and the CH-53K.

The CH-53K is the premier heavy-lift helicopter that will expand the fleet’s ability to move more material more rapidly. That power comes from three new General Electric T-408 engines, which are more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the T-64 engines currently outfitted on the CH-53E.

According to Debbie Cleavenger, assistant program manager for engineering and the program office’s chief engineer, three engines created several integration issues, including the most troublesome—exhaust gas re-ingestion (EGR).

“EGR occurs when the hot engine gasses are ingested back into the system,” Cleavenger said. “It can cause anything from increased life-cycle costs, poor engine performance and degradation, time-on-wing decreases, engine overheating and even engine stalls.”

Since April 2019, the tiger team completed more than 30 test events and evaluated 135 potential design solutions for engine integration.

“The systems constraints were significant,” Cleavenger said. “One change impacted multiple systems.”

Team members worked different root cause analyses in parallel, determining the cause and developing design models to mitigate causes for EGR. From those models, iterative flight testing resulted in a validated model to assess the most promising answer.

That model was then used to construct components for one of the test aircraft that flew a rigorous series of test flights to collect data to validate the model. The extensive set of flight test data was then condensed, analyzed and presented in December 2019 to show that the result performed as predicted and provided an overall design modification that would meet the needs for the CH-53K fleet aircraft.

All CH-53Ks built for the fleet will incorporate this production solution. Only one test aircraft has been modified to the production solution, since it would not be cost-effective or beneficial to the program to modify them all.

“This is exactly what an integrated test team is supposed to do,” Perrin said. “Bring their expertise to a project, look for resolutions in a dynamic and collaborative environment, determine the best path forward and keep this aircraft on track to the fleet.”

EGR testing was executed within the reprogrammed CH-53K program execution timeline to support Initial Operational Capability in 2021. The CH-53K is continuing toward completion of developmental test, leading to Initial Operational Test and Evaluation in 2021, followed by first fleet deployment in 2023/2024.

Victoria Falcon provides strategic communications for the Heavy Lift Helicopter Program.

CH-53K Logistics Demo Improves Maintenance for Fleet

Marines with Marine Operational Test & Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1 load the main gearbox of the CH-53K King Stallion onto the aircraft aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., as part of a Logistics Demonstration. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ethan Pumphret)

Data collected during a recent Logistics Demonstration (LogDemo) for the CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter is already paying dividends as the aircraft moves closer to fleet introduction for Operational Test and Evaluation in 2021.

Maintenance data collection and analysis is an ongoing part of the King Stallion program, but the LogDemo was a unique opportunity to put the CH-53K through its paces in test and development, while giving fleet personnel touch-time on the aircraft. Marine Corps participation in evaluating the integrated product support (IPS) elements is key to future readiness.

During the past 15 months, the CH-53K Supportability Test and Evaluation (ST&E) team, including industry and government partners, conducted the LogDemo with the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1 maintainers at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. The team completed more than 3,500 hours of ground test events.

“Although the window for performance is considered complete for LogDemo, we are still making opportunities to evaluate maintenance for data collection,” said Todd Winstead, CH-53K ST&E LogDemo lead.

The LogDemo kicked off an on-going process of observation, identification and analysis in the logistics process for the CH-53K, he added.

“LogDemo has helped us in early discovery of maintenance deficiencies, providing lead-time for improving product support prior to commencing operational test,” he said. “It will also increase efficiency for aircraft availability.”

“In LogDemo, we took an actual CH-53K aircraft apart and rebuilt it, documenting the process every step of the way,” said Lt. Col. Julian Rosemond, CH-53K product support lead. “The LogDemo gave our Marines advanced practical experience and improved problem-solving skills. They were able to obtain qualifications and improve their capability to perform function tests to be prepared for squadron stand-up.”

LogDemo was a win-win for all involved, he said. The team received real-time assessments by working with fleet Marines. The entire program gathered valuable data to correct and improve logistics support products that will lead to increased efficiency and accuracy in the performance of future maintenance operations.

A key to the LogDemo is the verification of data in the Interactive Electronic Technical Manual (IETM) modules using an iterative approach. The IETM is a digital manual that contains technical procedures that guide the maintainers in accurately removing and installing components; performing troubleshooting and functional tests; identifying replacement parts; and interfacing peculiar support equipment to perform tasks.

The team evaluated critical maintenance tasks while conducting verification of IETM procedures—from the use of support equipment to the specific tools used to perform maintenance. For example, during the evaluation for removing and installing a major component, Marines identified discrepancies with IETMs and steps missing to adequately perform torqueing and measuring for installing a main rotor head, thus requiring technical/engineering support to correct procedures.

“If not for LogDemo and the discovery of the improper procedures, serious damage or failure to a critical safe-for-flight component could have occurred,” Winstead said.

However, because of LogDemo, that risk was avoided and the documentation has been corrected, he said.

Though the LogDemo is now complete, the team’s work continues in providing deficiency reports and report summaries. The team is also preparing for future testing, including the CH-53K sea trials, which will occur later this year.

Written by Victoria Falcon, who provides strategic communications for the Heavy Lift Helicopter Program.

VMFA-314: First Marine Corps Squadron Transitions to F35C

Lt. Col. Cedar L. Hinton, Commanding Officer of Marine Wing Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing lands VMFA-314’s first F-35C Lightning II on Marine Air Station Miramar, Calif., on Jan. 21. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dominic Romero)

Under instruction of the Navy’s F-35C fleet replacement squadron (FRS), Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 began transitioning from legacy F/A-18C Hornets to the F-35C Lightning II on Sept. 30.

VMFA-314’s transition from legacy Hornets to the F-35C began last June during a sundown ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California, where the “Black Knights” formally retired their last F/A-18C Hornet and simultaneously embarked on the path to becoming the first Marine Corps squadron to fly the F-35 carrier variant. All previous Marine Corps F-35 transitions have been to the F-35B STOVL variant.

 “This transition process really began at the sundown ceremony in February  at Miramar,” said VMFA-314 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Cedar Hinton.

Since then, VMFA-314 has been moving toward becoming a fully operational F-35C squadron. Starting at the end of September, VMFA-314 has been spending the latter portion of 2019 at NAS Lemoore preparing for Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification (SFFOC).

VMFA-314 is part of Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) 3, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 11, located at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

SFFOC is the final milestone for VMFA-314’s transition to the F-35C. This process ensures a squadron is manned with qualified personnel to implement maintenance and safety programs in support of fleet operations. All transitioning squadrons are required to complete this certification prior to independently conducting flight operations.

The “Rough Raiders” of VFA-125 at NAS Lemoore play a critical role in transitioning VMFA-314 pilots and maintainers to the F-35C and ultimately achieving their SFFOC. When introducing a new aircraft to the fleet, the appropriate FRS is assigned oversight responsibility for the transitioning unit. VFA-125 was re-activated in January of 2017 to fulfill FRS role for the F-35C. 

SFFOC encompasses areas such as equipment, personnel and programs. Not least among them is the requirement for the squadron to be in the physical custody of at least 30 percent of the assigned aircraft.

The transition process for VMFA-314 at NAS Lemoore will last roughly six to seven months, with a large portion of the squadron returning to Miramar in early 2020 to prepare for SFFOC evaluations and inspections happening on-site later next spring. The Black Knights will receive their first aircraft at this time. 

Lt. Col. Cedar L. Hinton, Commanding Officer of VMFA-314, taxis the first Marine F-35C Lightning II after landing at MCAS Miramar, Calif. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dominic Romero)

“VMFA-314’s success would not be possible without the tireless support of VFA-125, the F-35C Fleet Integration Team (FIT) and Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing (CJSFW),” Hinton said. “

A factor in VMFA-314’s transition is their familiarity with the F-35 program. While the Navy and Marine Corps F-35C program declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in February 2019, the Marine Corps F-35B program accomplished IOC in July of 2015, exposing more personnel to the program. While the aircraft and many of the qualifications needed for VMFA-314’s SFFOC may be different, the program mindset translates well between the STOVL and carrier variant. 

“The Rough Raider team is already working with VMFA-314’s pilots and maintainers as they make the transition to the F-35C,” said VFA-125 Commanding Officer Capt. Adan Covarrubias. “While many of the pilots and maintainers making this transition have previous experience in operational, test and training F-35B squadrons, the formal introduction to the carrier variant begins here at NAS Lemoore.”

More than 65 percent of VMFA-314 maintainers have F-35B qualifications that can be carried over to the F-35C variant. During their time at NAS Lemoore, the Black Knights will be working with VFA-125 to complete squadron-wide F-35C qualifications and on-the-job training for all rates in preparation for their SFFOC early next year. With regard to training aircrew to meet SFFOC, almost half of the transitioning pilots come from an F-35 background, some even having significant experience in the F-35C.

“The Navy and Marine Corps have a rich heritage of deploying together in carrier air wings and VMFA-314’s transition to the F-35C furthers this warfighting partnership,” said CJSFW Capt. Max McCoy. “The Marine Corps will be critical to deploying fifth-generation capability in Navy carrier strike groups. We’re excited to have the Black Knights at NAS Lemoore and look forward to providing the training and support for their Safe-for-Flight Operations Certification as the first Marine Corps F-35C squadron.”

CJSFW, headquartered at Lemoore, ensures each F-35C squadron is combat-ready and trained in strike fighter and support missions as required by fleet commanders.

Lt. Cmdr. Lydia E. Bock is the public affairs officer for Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing.

E-2D: Launching in the Next Decade

An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20, takes off from USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck during aircraft compatibility testing in January. 
(U.S. Navy photo by MC Angel Thuy Jaskuloski)

When there is a call to battle, it is the first fixed-wing aircraft off the carrier, leading the charge. Once deployed, it is the eyes, ears and brains of the fight, flying high above the battlefield, relaying enemy positions and actions through its advanced radar capabilities, able to keep track of friend and foe. And then, when the mission is over, it is the last fixed-wing aircraft to return, ensuring it maintains surveillance and guaranteeing a safe return for allies.

Some call it the “quarterback of the sky,” comparing it to the team leader on the gridiron, calling the plays to the rest of the team.

“The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is an invaluable asset for the modern fleet as we launch into the next decade,” said Capt. Matthew Duffy, commodore, Airborne Command & Control and Logistics Wing.

While iterations of the E-2 have been around for more than 50 years—the first E-2 was developed and launched in the 1950s—the upgraded E-2D now features an APY-9 radar featuring the most modern and technologically upgraded sensor array to allow the aviators in the E-2D to reliably relay strategic information and data to the fleet in real time.

Capt. Matthew Duffy
(U.S. Navy photo)

The aircraft was most recently upgraded with aerial refueling (AR) capability as well as software with Delta System and Software Configuration (DSSC) 3. With the AR upgrade, the aircraft can remain on station longer, guiding and leading the strike group, while the DSSC-3 release transmits strategic information via data links to the air wing.

“The E-2D is a game changer,” said Capt. Keith Hash, E-2D program manager with the E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office. “The sensors and the technology upgrades we brought to the platform were a two generational leap in technology and capability [compared to the E-2C it replaced]. When it deployed, it provided modern command and control. In fact, it is one of the most modern airborne command and control systems in the world.”

The original E-2 was developed in the 1950s and deployed in the 1960s, Hash said. It has gone through many iterations and lifeforms up until the E-2C, which was deployed in the 1970s. From there, it was transformed and updated on a nearly yearly basis until the development of the E-2D, which began in the 1990s and through the 2000s.

The aircraft is controlled by five crewmembers—two pilots and three naval flight officers sitting in a modern cockpit with digital displays and tactical information. The aircrew is able to take vast amounts of data and information being collected by the aircraft’s radar and sensor technology and relay it to command and control nodes in order for them to make better decisions in confronting a threat or adversary.

“We modernized the radar and the entire interface, changing how the aviators interact with the weapon system and do their job. The E-2D is a modern aircraft with modern sensors, and we’ve changed even the philosophy of how it is maintained,” Hash said.

“In the past, you would have large pieces of electronics equipment that would come out and require support behind it. The way the E-2D is maintained is at a much more modular level. We’ve given our operational Sailors the ability to update and change components, which was previously handled at the intermediate-level. This allows us to have better supportability and reliability of the system as it goes forward,” Hash said.

An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 lands aboard USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Sean Elliott)

Now, with upgrades made to the aircraft to improve radar technology (see page 38) and aerial refueling, the next step is to roll out the upgraded aircraft to the fleet this year.

“In 2020, two fleet squadrons are going to transition to E-2Ds with aerial refueling capability, and that involves air crew training and some aircraft exchanges,” Duffy said. “When this deploys, it’s going to give the carrier strike group and theater commanders many more options with the employability and the concept of operations with the E-2D.”

Duffy said that Jan. 1 marked the start of an important decade for the E-2D, with plans to implement new training approaches, new branding material, as well as new vision and policy statements, all in an effort to reflect the new capabilities of the E-2D. And with this plan rolling out, Duffy said the E-2D will further contribute to fleet readiness.

“We’ve had some challenges in our past, but thanks to the leadership of Vice Adm. [DeWolfe] Miller, the current Air Boss and his staff, Naval Aviation has refocused in a very prudent, methodical way to restore aviation readiness,” Duffy said. “Being smart about how we apply leadership and resources, modernizing our processes and approaches will build and sustain readiness. I’m proud to say we’ve had eight straight months of increasing numbers for mission-capable E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, ready to be employed by any commander.

“Our best days are yet to come. Our best decade is at our doorstep, and the next decade will be one for the ages, with respect to Naval Aviation, but will be the best decade yet in history of the proud E-2 family.”

Rob Perry is a staff writer for Naval Aviation News. 

Acquisition Opportunities for NFOs

Capt. Keith Hash
(U.S. Navy photo)

Capt. Keith Hash, E-2D program manager of the E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office, has been a part of the E-2 community his entire naval career.

“I’ve had opportunities to be a part of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye acquisition from being a test flight officer to logistics, to now the program manager.

“When I was a test flight officer, we were just developing the E-2D on paper. I was part of some of those forums where they were showing us designs and we were saying, ‘That’s going to work’ or ‘That’s not going to work and we need help here.’”

One of his most rewarding roles was to participate in the design of the intercommunication system (ICS).

“When I was an operational commanding officer (CO) on USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in 2012, the E-2Ds came out with us during one of our underways as a part of the operational tests. We had some of the oldest E-2Cs in the fleet along with the brand new E-2Ds.

“I flew on the E-2D as the CO of the squadron. The first time I touched that communication system was amazing, absolutely eye watering. I will always enjoy my few hours of E-2D time, getting to see the aircraft I helped develop.”

Hash has also made it a part of his job to brief the fleet on career opportunities in acquisition.

In addition to competing for training posts or developing and training weapons and tactics, the Navy needs top lieutenants in acquisition to test and inform the designs for future capabilities, he said.

“Acquisition has one of the greatest impacts for future warfighting effects and capabilities to impact our ability to serve our nation. Acquisition is to me, on par with those other key areas for top performers to support our Navy,” he said.  

Written by Andrea Watters

E-2/C-2 Program Office Renamed

The E-2/C-2 Program Office, designated PMA-231, officially changed its name to E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office in October in an effort to better align and serve the E-2/C-2 community.

The name change more accurately reflects the program’s mission to develop, acquire and sustain unmatched command and control aircraft so that the warfighter can win the fight today and tomorrow, said Capt. Keith Hash, program manager.

“Our aircraft launches first and lands last,” Hash said. “No one goes into the sky without an E-2D or an E-2C up there watching and providing command and control.”

The program office received Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development & Acquisition) James Geurts’s approval on Oct. 11 to change the name.

The name change aligns to the current Airborne Command & Control and Logistics Wing (ACCLOGWING) name and the anticipated carrier airborne early warning squadrons name change that took effect Jan. 1, when these squadrons were designated carrier airborne command & control squadrons.

It also reflects the wing commodore’s vision for 2020 and beyond.

“Command and control aircraft will never go away or become irrelevant because command and control will always be necessary to see and hear on behalf of our warfighters,” Hash said. “This name change sets us up for the future of our program and the wing.”

The E-2/C-2 program office supports acquisition and sustainment of the E-2C Hawkeye, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and C-2A Greyhound aircraft platforms. In 2020, the E-2D is expected to require about 50 percent of the program’s attention while the E-2C remains in sustainment and the C-2A continues preparations for sundown in 2024.

Written by Carolyn Smith, who provides communications support for the E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office.  

E-2D Sustainment Pilot Program Created

Department of Navy (DoN) leaders established an enduring and disciplined sustainment management process by approving and launching the first Sustainment Program Baseline (SPB) pilot for the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye in fiscal 2020.

while the Navy achieved the Secretary of Defense’s mission-capable F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft rate at the end of fiscal 2019, maintaining those readiness levels remains at the forefront.

“We are implementing new processes to bring more rigor into our sustainment efforts, and therefore increasing our output to the fleet,” said Sean Burke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Sustainment). “This sustainment pilot will improve the accuracy of our requirements, funding, performance and governance of weapon system sustainment.”

Sustainment is the management of everything required to enable future readiness; it reaches back through the enterprise from the flight line, across multiple organizations and disciplines, and consumes more than half of the Navy’s budget. To maintain mission-capable rates across the fleet, a highly complex naval sustainment ‘system of systems’ must manage tens of thousands of parts from thousands of suppliers, truckloads of ever-changing technical data, millions of software lines of code and billions in funding must be aligned, finely tuned and actively managed.

A key component of the pilot process is identifying specific performance requirements for supply, repair, support equipment, engineering, trainers, maintenance and technical data unique for the E-2D that enable fleet squadrons to achieve readiness. The SPB identifies and governs complex interdependencies and refines resource allocation risks across the sustainment system.

Capt. Keith Hash, E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems program manager, and Capt. Matthew Duffy, E-2 Wing commodore, have worked closely together to address readiness issues. The E-2D SPB takes their partnership to a new level, with a weapon system focused sustainment document submitted by the fleet commander and the program manager.

“We welcome the SPB and its processes of setting specific comprehensive requirements and regularly measuring performance across the span of product support providers,” Duffy said. “This will ultimately generate more readiness and provide additional [full mission capable] Advanced Hawkeyes ready for the high-end fight.”

Traditionally, the fleet has reported mission capability, but under SPB, Duffy and Hash will also report quarterly on the performance of the sustainment system to their approved requirements directly to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Assistant Secretary Of The Navy Research, Development & Acquisition and Commander, Naval Air Forces.

The DoN anticipates the SPB concept to evolve as they mature and refine the process and expand the use of SPBs. The Marine Corps has developed and submitted their first SPB pilot for the H-1 program.

Shirley Franko is with the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Sustainment). 

Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Nathaniel Massey, left, and Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Anyssa Medina do a phase inspection on an E-2D Hawkeye attached to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121 in the hangar bay of aboard aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Garrett LaBarge)

NAWCAD Lakehurst Expands Additive Manufacturing Facility

Engineers conduct Bead on Plate trials on the Optomec CS-800 DED System at NAWCAD Lakehurst.
(U.S. Navy photo)

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst is supporting Naval Aviation readiness and sustainment through the growth of its advanced manufacturing capabilities, with the recent expansion of its (AM) facility.

The AM team at Lakehurst acquired three new machines for their facility in 2019 to increase production capacity and speed in support of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and the fleet.

“This facility expansion strengthens NAWCAD Lakehurst as a powerhouse in metal-based additive manufacturing,” said Kathleen P. Donnelly, NAWCAD Lakehurst executive director. “Our team is at the tip of the spear in using emerging technologies to increase readiness and sustainment for our Sailors and Marines, and it’s exciting to see how they continue to revolutionize navy manufacturing.”

Engineers with the Advanced Manufacturing/Prototype Engineering Branch at NAWCAD Lakehurst use the Sciaky EBAM System to fixture a part.
(U.S. Navy photo)

NAVAIR is exploring the use of AM to create aviation parts and tools that would not be possible through traditional manufacturing techniques and to sustain parts that are no longer available in the supply system.

AM, commonly known as 3D printing, is the process of joining materials such as polymers and powdered metals, layer upon layer, to make objects from 3D model data inside a machine using a laser or electron beam. It can decrease manufacturing time from weeks or days to hours and be used on complex geometries that cannot be built using traditional manufacturing methods, said NAWCAD Lakehurst Advanced Manufacturing Technology lead Kyle Cobb.

NAWCAD Lakehurst opened its unique metal-based AM facility in 2015 with a metallic Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) system and a team of four people. The team was a part of NAVAIR’s successful flight of the first safety-critical AM part in July 2016 on an MV-22B Osprey.

The Lakehurst team has now grown to more than 20 engineers and produced more than 76 AM builds totaling more than 250 parts to evaluate the use of metal-based additive manufacturing to address warfighter needs. 

“It’s a paradigm shift in how we do business, because it removes the traditional boundaries we have when we’re thinking about designs,” Cobb said. “Now you’re enabled to effectively generate your design based on the actual requirements versus your ability to make the item. AM opens up a whole new world of opportunity.”

An engineer at NAWCAD Lakehurst operates the controls of the Optomec CS-800 DED System.
(U.S. Navy photo)

The three new machines include an Optomec CS-800 Directed Energy Deposition (DED) AM System, Sciaky Electron Beam AM (EBAM) System and the NSI X5000 Computed Tomography (CT) NDI X-Ray System.

The DED AM system allows the team to repair larger items with complex geometries that previously would have been salvaged or scrapped, including critical engine components that are expensive to replace.

The Electron Beam system can repair large objects in a timely fashion with little waste. It uses a wire-feed system with an electron beam to lay materials with a much higher rate of deposition, saving time and money.

The Repeatable Release Holdback Bar (RRHB) affixed in the NSI X5000 CT X-Ray System.
(U.S. Navy photo)

The CT X-Ray system expands the AM facility’s reverse engineering capabilities and enables engineering investigations and failure analysis without disassembling components and losing valuable information.

“Often times we don’t have the data rights to legacy components that were designed 30-40 years ago,” Cobb said. “As we continue to extend the life expectancy of each platform, we need to support more and more parts. This machine will allow us to capture the internal and external geometry so we can perform reverse engineering, which often feeds the additive process.”

The system also brings scanning services in-house, reducing contracting and shipping costs.

“These three systems will result in a tremendous increase in capability and will have an immediate impact to the warfighter,” he said. “We’re working so hard and so fast that you don’t really notice all the evolution and the progress we’ve made, but when you take a step back and realize we’ve just gained this amount of equipment in this amount of time and trained all these people, I think it’s really impressive.”

Allison Murawski is the public affairs officer for Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst. 

Old Bird Teaches Test Pilots New Tricks

Smoke belches from one of “Panchito’s” radial piston engines during a warm-up prior to a flight
at the USNTPS. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

Over the course of their 11-month program, students at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, have the unparalleled opportunity to fly a wide array of aircraft—from the latest strike fighters to the oldest airplane in the Navy’s inventory.

But for many students, one of their most memorable flight experiences is fly “Panchito,” a World War II-vintage B-25J Mitchell medium bomber, courtesy of the Delaware Aviation Museum.

For 16 years, Larry Kelley, Panchito’s owner and the museum’s executive director, has been visiting Patuxent River twice a year to allow test pilot school students to take turns flying the aircraft in a variety of configurations. Kelley said that Panchito allows students to grapple with handling characteristics that are dramatically different from other types of aircraft.


Larry Kelley, Panchito’s owner and co-founder of the Delaware Aviation Museum, stands in front of his B-25 Mitchell at the USNTPS. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

“There are no boosted controls, no nose-wheel steering and no computers,” Kelley said. “This is all what’s called ‘arm-strong’ flying. However strong your arms are is all the boost you’ve got.”

Lt. Col. Rory “Pikey” Feely, USNTPS Commanding Officer, explained that Panchito is part of the USNTPS Qualitative Evaluation (QE) program, through which USNTPS contracts with a number of aircraft operators as a way to broaden the experience of test aviators and flight-test engineers.

“Aircraft in the QE program are chosen for their ability to reinforce key learning objectives being taught in the curriculum,” Feely said. “The QE program also supports the staff instructors because an aviation engineering mindset needs continuous fostering over a career. Hence, USNTPS encourages staff participation in as many QE flights as possible.”

The benefit of spending several hours in the cramped flight deck of the bomber, relying on analog “steam gauges” instead of the latest all-digital, fly-by-wire cockpits, is that students get a unique opportunity to test their adaptability.

“The aviators who come in here do not spend their entire career flying one particular type of airplane,” said Kelley, one of three pilots approved to fly Panchito as part of the QE program. “They’re leaving here to go into a test environment. For a test pilot, adaptability becomes very important.”

In Panchito, which the students have nicknamed “PB&J,” students not only practice takeoffs, landings, cruising flight and turns; they can also try other maneuvers in the test program such as stalls, Dutch rolls, sideslips, spirals and phugoid oscillations.

“It’s very difficult for someone to do anything that they’ve only heard described and never seen,” Kelley explained. “So on that first landing, we’re dance partners on the controls. You need a partner who’s going to take the lead. When I was learning swing dance, it was that way. You get a dance partner who is a professional, who knows the dance, and they take the lead, and then—bam—all of a sudden, you can nail it.”

As a bonus, the flight is a memorable experience for the pilots and engineers. Kelley always reminds students that they are stepping into the shoes of many young B-25 crews who routinely left an envelope on their bunk to mail home in case they didn’t make it back from a mission.


Marine Corps Maj. Hugh Anderson, a student at the USNTPS, looks out of the pilot’s seat of  Panchito after returning from a test flight to assess the airplane’s handling characteristics. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

 

The Delaware Aviation Museum has been running a B-25 pilot-in-command and second-in-command training program for five years. The course includes ground school as well as on-the-ground and in-flight instruction in the aircraft. Dozens of pilots have gone through the course, but Kelley said that test pilots are in a class by themselves.

“What separates this level of professionalism from, say, an amateur general aviation pilot is that the next time they fly the airplane, they can generally replicate their experience,” Kelley said. “And that’s part of what this school is all about—getting these pilots to the level to where they can take that brief and translate it into a flight and get the data the engineers need.”

“I’m just in awe of what these guys and gals do,” he said.

Although Kelley has been flying for just over 50 years—22 of them in Panchito—mastering the B-25 was a struggle for him. In contrast, the best natural B-25 pilot he’s ever seen was a USNTPS student who handled the airplane like a veteran from the moment she first strapped into the left-hand seat.

“She was so short we had to put cushions behind her to be able to reach the rudder pedals,” Kelley recalled. “From the moment we left the chocks, though, it was like she had grown up in the airplane.”

“Her call sign was ‘Duke,’ because they said she walked like John Wayne,” Kelley added.

Following her graduation from USNTPS, “Duke”—Marine Corps Lt. Col. Nicole Aunapu Mann–went on to serve as an F/A-18 test pilot in Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 before being selected as one of eight members of Astronaut Group 21 in 2013. Today, Mann is currently training to be on the first crewed flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station next year.

“The pilots who have made it to this level in their career, it’s not happenstance that they’re selected for this school,” Kelley said. “Their adaptability is faster. Things go wrong in test programs, so you’ve got to make certain that you have the best of the best.”

Paul Lagasse is a communications specialist with Naval Air Warfare Center.

Aviation Museum pilot Calvin Peacock prior to a training flight at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS). (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

F-35 Rapid Response Team Takes Repairs on the Road

When issues arise with an F-35 Lightning II, the F-35 Rapid Response Team (RRT) stands ready to get the jet back in the fight.

 “Anything that happens outside the depot—for the Navy, Marines or Air Force—anywhere around the world, they call us and we can deploy these RRT team members at a moment’s notice,” said David Thorpe, F-35 branch head at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) where the team is headquartered.

The RRT consists of expert, cross-trained artisans who hold journey-level, expert status in at least one trade, and a skilled worker-level status in others, Thorpe said.

“The team is like a maintenance and repair special operations force,” he said. “The concept is that we can send fewer people and they can help each other do the work.”

For example, a recent RRT mission to Edwards Air Force Base, California, called for a dedicated low observable (LO) coating technician and a painter plus the removal of a large panel not designed for removal under normal maintenance action, Thorpe said.

The F-35 Rapid Response Team is a highly skilled team of cross-trained aircraft maintenance professionals headquartered at Fleet Readiness Center East. (U.S. Navy photo by Heather Wilburn)

The repair involved a Navy Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 9, DET Edwards, aircraft and the team’s performance impressed leadership at the DET, said Lt. David Quant, the unit’s maintenance officer.

“Our squadron has worked with numerous contractor and depot-level teams and the F-35 RRT left a very positive and lasting impression. It was obvious to us that the RRT was a group of hand-selected individuals who possessed the right level of experience and motivation,” he said. “The team even went above their scope by assisting our Sailors with regression checks and the installation of panels.”

Not only did the RRT get the job done, they managed to do it within their planned time frame—an especially big win for a repair that had yet to be performed. And while this aircraft was not a forward-deployed asset—like the majority of the aircraft repaired by the RRT—meeting that repair schedule on a test aircraft is important to help the Navy realize Initial Operational Capability and system demonstration and development dates, Thorpe said.

Written by Heather Wilburn, a communications specialist with Fleet Readiness Center East Public Affairs.

The Flagship Publication of Naval Aviation