EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. For years the Raptor community has endured ground aborts for deployment and readiness flights due to a hardware limitation associated with its external fuel tanks.
Twenty-four F-22 Raptors from 3rd Wing and 477th Fighter Group, a C-17 Globemaster III and an E-3 Sentry participate in a close formation taxi, known as an Elephant Walk, March 26, 2019, during a Polar Force exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. This two-week exercise gives squadrons an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to forward deploy and deliver overwhelming combat power. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher)
Recently the 411th Flight Test Squadron and F-22 Combined Test Force worked hand in hand with the broader F-22 enterprise to correct this deficiency resulting in a dramatic increase in combat capability during the latest readiness exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Since the Raptor achieved initial operational capability, a deficiency associated with external fuel tanks and the F-22’s ground fuel management logic has plagued the Raptor community. The problems would typically manifest as center of gravity issues and trapped fuel indications that procedurally prevented pilots from taking off. As a consequence, the operational community sought and implemented multiple work arounds including: loading tanks well ahead of deployments, flying multiple confidence flights, and limiting the times tanks could be swapped to meet training requirements. On top of those procedures, extra risk mitigation through ground and air spares was often utilized during readiness exercises and real-world deployments to ensure minimum force levels were met. These mitigations were costly and ultimately did not completely mitigate the problem.
Working together with the operational community, the 411th began a "if it seems dumb, then let's not do it" initiative to address cases just like that outlined above. This direct relationship between test and operations allowed the users to leverage the engineering and technical expertise available to DT to devise solutions to numerous issues.
Specifically, the 411th utilized pilot input and engineering analysis to show that previous guidance on external fuel tank operations was overly restrictive and that pilots could indeed take off with the condition and allow the plane to rectify the fuel imbalance airborne. Implementing the above, without any change to aircraft hardware or software, allowed JBER to generate 25 of 26 aircraft during their most recent exercise. Had JBER utilized legacy checklist guidance they would have only generated 16 of 26 aircraft. The net result was a thirty five percent increase in combat effectiveness!
Press Release : Maj. Michael Coleman, 411th Flight Test Squadron
The impact of test-to-operator relationships and team actions cannot be overstated. Word has spread throughout the Raptor community resulting in a flood of inputs from the operational community. These inputs, along with the shift in mindset that processes can change, will undoubtedly only yield more successes down the road and ensure the Raptor remains as dominant tomorrow as it is today.