The Royal Air Force of Oman is ordering advanced defensive electronic systems to protect its F-16 fighter jets. The latest $47.5 million contract to ITT corporation of Clifton, New Jersey will see up to 15 AN/ALQ-211(V), 4 Airborne Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suites (AIDEWS) along with 2 sets of antenna couplers procured by the end of 2014.
The AN/ALQ-211(V) family of electronic protection/defensive countermeasure product comprise the internally carried AN/ALQ-211(V)4 and an external pod version designated AN/ALQ-211(V)9. Both versions are marketed as Airborne Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suites (AIDEWS) employing state-of-the-art Digital Radio Frequency Memory DRFM functionality. According to Australia Defence Science and Technology Organisation, “they integrate a radar warning receiver to detect and identify advanced air-to-surface and air-to-air RF threat weapons systems and to generate effective self-protection responses against them”. Exelis which now incorporates ITT Corporation explains how the AN/ALQ-211 automatically controls every aspects of the tactical contingency in any high threat environment; “when the aircrew encounters a threat emission (referring to Radio Frequency, Infra Red or Laser), the ALQ-211 establishes the threat range from the mission aircraft. If an aircraft is in lethal range of the threat, the ALQ-211 initiates an integrated instantaneous response, breaking missile lock through RF countermeasures, and cues the use of chaff and flares”.
Although the internally carried system has seen wide employment aboard Block 50/52 F-16, the pod-based application has generally provided add-on advanced defensive capabilities for earlier variants F-16 (A and B models) as well as legacy fighter aircraft (Dassault Mirage, Saab). These systems have also been deployed by other F-16 operators including Chile, Poland, Pakistan and Turkey. Typically the AIDEWS version would integrate Radar Warning Receiver, Electronic Warfare System, Advanced Mode IV Identification Friend or Foe systems, ALE-50 Fiber Optic towed decoy and AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispensing System CMDS coupled to RR-170 self-protection chaff and MJU-7B self protection flares.
The Oman Royal Air Force which has acquired 12 Block 50/52 aircraft initially ordered in 2001. A more recent 2011 order for another 12 Block 50/52 F-16 testified of the maturing operational capabilities of that small air force. The Oman Royal Air Force operational requirements issued in 2010 include the potent multi mode APG-68(V)9 radar, the AN/ARC-238 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems SINGCARS and HAVE QUICK I/II line-of-sight radios, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems, GPS and Embedded-GPS/Inertial Navigation Systems INS, AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER Targeting Pods and DB-110 Reconnaissance Pods (RECCE). By expanding the operational envelope of its F-16 by adding conformal fuel tanks and introducing Increased Performance F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 Engines, the Oman Royal Air Force will be capable to conduct long range missions as well as survive the most lethal threats environment.
A Boeing 737-200 operated by Pakistan’s Bhoja Air crashed late Friday while carrying 117 passengers and 9 crew members. The aircraft had departed Karachi at 5:05pm and was due to land at Islamabad at 6:50pm (9:50 am New York City local time). The approach took place under very severe weather conditions and the aircraft was reportedly seen turning into a massive fireball shortly before or after hitting the ground near a Husain Abad village residential habitations area. This area is located in the vicinity of the Rawalpindi Air Force complex. The evening crash took place at about 6:40 pm amid lightning, rain and possibly hail conditions as air traffic controllers reported suddenly losing contact with the crew of the doomed aircraft. A large scale recovery effort coordinated by the ministry of defense has been underway, highlighting the severity of the crisis, one of Pakistan’s worse.
Bhota Airlines is a small Pakistani air operator started in 1993. The Karachi-based carrier who had stopped operations following financial difficulties in 2001 recently re-emerged into passenger operations and was apparently conducting its first Karachi-Islamabad flight under the flight B4-213 that crashed on Friday. Pakistan’s main national carrier PIA was preparing a flight on behalf of the country’s Civil Aviation Authority to bring the victims’ relatives to Islamabad at no cost. The Boeing 737-200 aircraft series were all delivered by Boeing between December 29th 1967 and August 8th 1988 all powered by the ubiquitously small diameter Pratt and Whitney JT8D turbojet engine, which allowed the aircraft to have a lower stance while on he ground.
The last Discovery Space Shuttle flight took place Tuesday April 17th 2012 mounted atop the NASA 905 Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. After 39 missions in space totaling 365 days, Discovery left the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:58 am as the pair treated spectators to a graceful fly-by. The arrival four hours later at the nation’s capital Washington Dulles International Airport was graced with similar historical solemnity with an overflight of the National Mall and other iconic buildings.
Preparing For The Flight
Discovery’s mating to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft was carried out on Sunday April 15th, a day later than planned after strong wind gusts impaired work at the Kennedy Space Center the day before.
The Mate Demate Device MDD that helps secure the Space Shuttle onto the Carrier Aircraft is a bridge-like metallic structure whose crane helps hoist the 167,000 pounds (75,300 kgs) space shuttle 60ft (18 m) in the air while the Boeing 747 is allowed to park underneath the still hanging shuttle. In a tightly choreographed sequence, the 122-foot (38-meter) long orbiter space shuttle is lowered onto the 231-foot (70-meter) Shuttle Carrier Aircraft Boeing 747 where it is finally secured onto three attachment points.
Since its first delivery flight to Kennedy Space Center on November 9th 1983, Discovery was carried by NASA 905 fourteen times before this final flight. In four other ferry flights, Discovery was mated to the now retired NASA 911 second Shuttle Carrier Boeing 747 Aircraft.
Following today’s arrival at Washington Dulles International Airport, two large cranes will remove Discovery from the back of the NASA 905 Boeing 747. The official arrival ceremony scheduled for Thursday April 19th 2012 will see Discovery roll onto its Smithsonian’s James S. McDonnell Space Hangar final stand at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum adjacent to Dulles complex. No later than April 23rd 2012, NASA 905 is due to arrive at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport carrying the Enterprise Space Shuttle. Enterprise was the first prototype of the orbital space shuttle program which never flew to space but instead was used for Approach and Landing Tests in 1977 when released from the NASA 905 carriers. On display at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum since 2003, Enterprise is moving to a new home at the NYC Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum. Delivery will take place on the Intrepid’s deck after being ferried by barge from JFK via New York City’s Hudson River.
The NASA Space Shuttle Carriers
NASA 905 refers to the oldest of two assigned Boeing 747 registered N905NA acquired by NASA from American Airlines in 1974 (reportedly for about $15,601,192.19). The modifications made by Boeing onto this Boeing 747-123 manufactured in 1970 comprise the addition of the three struts where the Space Shuttle attaches to along with two vertical stabilizers at the aircraft tailplane. The other Space Shuttle Carrier Boeing 747 aircraft known as NASA 911 (registered N-911NA) made its final flight on February 8th 2012 after more than 20 years of service with NASA. This 747-100SR(-46) built in 1973 and acquired by NASA from Japan Air Lines in 1989 will now serve as spare parts supporting NASA 905 in its next mission as NASA Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
The End Of The Line
With Discovery induction at the Smithsonian Museum in the nation’s capital and Enterprise donation to the Intrepid Museum in New York, Atlantis will remain at Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida while Endeavour will head to the California Science Center in Los Angeles later this year.
references and photo courtesy of NASA
Four people aboard a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300 aircraft sustained minor injuries following an emergency landing on Monday April 16th 2011. The flight operating as VS27 with 299 passengers and 13 crews on board had departed London Gatwick airport at 9:48 GMT (5:48 am New York local time) at destination of Orlando but returned for an emergency landing at 11:30 GMT (7:30 am New York local time). According to a Virgin Atlantic web site posting, the pilot’s decision to reverse course and return to Gatwick followed the in-flight discovery of an unspecified ‘technical problem’. The aircraft precautionary evacuation proceeded after the aircraft landed and came to a stop on Gatwick’s single runway with all its emergency chutes deployed. Emergency crews at the airport also reported putting out a small fire inside the aircraft. Traffic at London’s second busiest aircraft did resume 2 hours later at about 1330 GMT (9:30 am New York local time).
Seven people were injured after a US Navy F/A-18D fighter jet crashed onto an apartment complex in Virginia Beach at about 12:05pm on Friday. Among the two injured were the aircraft’s pilot and its flight officer who had ejected reportedly after dumping fuel from the ailing aircraft in anticipation of a crash. Of the seven people injured even only one of the pilot was reported to have remained in the hospital overnight. A total of 63 residents of the Mayfair Mews complex had been found unharmed after some 40 apartments were damaged by the crash ensuing fire. The aircraft had apparently been airborne briefly after taking off from nearby Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. The base is home to Strike Fighter Squadron 106 (VFA-106) ‘Gladiators’, a unit serving as the East Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron training for F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet air crews. There, naval aviators and first officers participate in 9 months duration air-to-air and air-to-ground training operations prior to applying for aircraft carrier qualifications. NAS Oceana is only distant from the larger Norfolk Naval Station by a few miles.
A UTair ATR-72-200 carrying 39 passengers and 4 crew members on board crashed shortly after an early morning take off from Tyumen Airport in Siberia, April 2nd. The aircraft built in 1992 was conducting a commercial flight to the town of Surgut 400 miles away (650 km). Airborne for only a few minutes, the doomed twin turboprop airliner went down on a snow-covered field located only 2 miles (3 km) from Tyumen airport. The impact apparently dislocated the aircraft fuselage into three sections that immediately erupted in flames. Thirty one of the aircraft occupants were reported killed and another twelve have been hospitalized in serious condition.
Precautionary measures taken by UTair saw the temporary grounding of the sixteen other ATR-72 aircraft in its fleet. The destroyed ATR-72-200 flight recorders were being transferred to Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee in Moscow.
Already reports of improper de-icing of the aircraft prior to taking-off have been reported by AFP. Additional eye witnesses accounts of the plane attempting to return to the airfield with its engines smoking may also preliminarily indicate mechanical malfunctions.
The ATR-42 and ATR-72 aircraft family consists of the shorter ATR-42
and its stretched sibling ATR-72 both built by the Franco-Italian consortium Aerospatiale/Aeritalia. According to aviation-safety database, the ATR-72 which first flew in 1988 and has seen production of more than 261 aircraft has suffered 14 hull losses with the most catastrophic event taking place in Cuba in 2010 and Indiana in 1994 which 68 passengers perished in both cases. The older ATR-42 which first flew in 1984 fared only marginally worse with 24 hull losses among the 365 aircraft produced. The most notorious ATR-42 accidents being that of a Santa Barbara Airline aircraft that killed 46 people in 2008, and the 1994 demise of another Royal Air Maroc aircraft that claimed 44 lives.
Software development involving the F-35 Lightning II sub systems is seeing multiple configurations being developed simultaneously as the new aircraft is progressing towards reaching initial operational capabilities later in the decade. Traditionally “evolutionary” approach would permit software-enabled capabilities to be incremented using the same code base while the aircraft program transitions from “training” to “war fighting” status. In the F-35 case, multiple teams are working on various software releases hoping to merge capabilities at a future stage of maturity. As a result various timetables describe the scope of remaining work done against the aircraft’s sub systems architecture. The road map we explore surveys the program’s development effort from the current Block 1 “Ready for Training” software configuration to the Block 4 “Enhanced War fighting” maturity target.
The F-35 presents major systems components whose functionality does not fall within he realm of traditional software-enabled capabilities (flight sciences, training systems, etc). Rather the aircraft program is seeing a greater share of software development and integration bound to the innovative Prognosis Health Management System (PHM) and the powerful Autonomic Logistics Information Systems (ALIS) management and planning tool.
Autonomic Logistics Information Systems ALIS
ALIS is evolving as a major software development and integration undertaking whose complexity has been a source of schedule slips. The system is designed to improve the aircraft maintainability by providing direct visibility horizontally across maintenance, support, pilot, mission, logistics etc.. functions. In that realm, spare parts can be produced and inventoried in keeping with ALIS-generated components life cycle model. It forms a high value distributed information system implementing best practice Enterprise Supply Chain Management. In fact ALIS is at the heart of the F-35 JSF achieving major requirement of guaranteed “low cost” logistics throughout the targeted 30 years (or 8,000 flight hours) of service life. However, a Recent Quick Look Review document has stressed the multi-level risks associated with ALIS from a development standpoint:
“the immaturity of ALIS development and the data integrity of aircraft configuration information are program-level sustainment risks which affect ALIS usability in test and operations. Concurrent development and production drives the need for multiple ALIS software releases in test and in the field which increases time and resources required to develop, correct and manage software.”
Structural Prognostic Health Management System (PHM)
With both on-board and off-board sub systems components, the F-35 Prognosis Health Management systems (PHM) plays the critical role of orchestrating the data flow between aircraft sensors linked to ALIS ground stations. This data flow can propagate relevant flight events correlated into valuable information for strategic fleet management insight; fleet sortie generation, customer support, suppliers and OEM as well as base management activities. With global logistics in mind F-35 operators derive tremendous benefits in support cost as well as optimal aircraft mission availability (an enterprise management approach with long range simulation and forecasting optimized towards the 8,000 flight hours/30 years service life target).
PHM Architecture: On-Board vs Off-Board systems
With its On-Board and Off-Board system architecture, PHM is tasked with fusing numerous sensors carried abroad the aircraft prior to offloading events information to off-board “health prognostics” processing.
The on-board air vehicle’s sensors monitor the health of flight critical, propulsion, airframe, mission and vehicle systems (over 100 parameters) recorded several events per second at frequency ranging from 20 events per second (Hz) to 80 Hz (320 Hz in aggregate). Some estimates credit the system for generating as much as 100-200 MB of data per flight hour which are recorded and preserved every 10 flight lifecycles in some cases.
The On-Board component of the PHM is interfaced to a vehicle support system interface with on-board diagnostics panel and to a portable memory device. The Off-Board Mission System (OMS) component which logs data recorded during flight provides maintenance debriefing insight and prognostics for intelligent logistics.
PHM Sensor Fusion
The sensor fusion paradigm promulgated by the PHM provides data as diverse as:
-Inertia and Strain sensor data (longitudinal, normal, lateral acceleration at the center of gravity) ,
-Engine Data (estimated total gross thrust feedback, estimated main nozzle thrust, main engine core speed, engine fan speed, ready to convert to jet, lift fan nozzle, pitch angle position,estimated lift fan thrust, estimated left and right roll nozzle thrust feedback, lift fan speed -physical/RPM, lift fan clutch status word),
-Control Surface (left & right flaperon angular position, left & right horizontal tail angular position, left & right vertical tail angular position),
-Air Data (angle of attack, static pressure measured, angle of sideslip, mach number, true airspeed, altitude rate) etc.
A prior GAO audit recognized this abundance of sensors as a factor in the growth of F-35 software code in comparison to previous aircraft programs: “The program’s software generation will integrate complex real-time interfacing of sensor “fusion”, weapons and fire control, maintenance and diagnostics, and propulsion and various actuated controls. The effort implements 8 times more software lines of code than found on the F/A18E/F and 4 times more than the F-22. Further growth of software code size soon became apparent “Software growth was 40% at preliminary design review, 13% after the critical design review. Recent programs saw 30 to 100% growth”.
F-35 Multiple Software Releases
A previous entry following the 2011 Selected Acquisition Report described the scope and pace of software development work for the program:
the initial limited release of Block 1 software was flown for the first time in November 2010 with Block I capability being implemented in software code at 81% (20M out of 24M software line of code). The road to Block 3.0 full warfighting capability scheduled for development in 2011-2014 has been charted through implementing the following blocks:
Block 0.1 (flight sciences 2006-2007),
Block 0.5 (initial mission systems architecture 2008-2010),
Block 1.0 (initial training capability 2008-2011),
Block 2.0 (initial warfighter capability 2010-2013) and
Block 3.0 (full warfighting capability 2011-2014).
The latest Quick Look Review has identified currently 8 flight releases versions being “manage(d) in System Design and Development; 4 for mission systems and 4 for Flight Sciences”. A Selected Acquisition Report also points to further complexity whenever functionality is added: “Additional mission systems capability is being added in each software block. The program has already encountered six weeks of down time on (test aircraft) AF-6 for software Block 1B, 2A, 2B which add weapons and more sensor fusion remains to be tested.”
F-35 software development phases:
Block 1A “Ready For Training”
The first software release was incorporated into the first twelve F-35 delivered to Eglin Air Force base with basic “training capabilities” in the early phase of the program SDD (System Design and Development) testing phase in 2010 and 2011. These airframes covered the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lot 1 and 2. The On Board software completed final flight testing with 44 sorties realizing 78.5 flight hours well on its way to receiving airworthiness clearance from the Air Force. Off board systems managed to reach government certification phase.
Block 1B “Initial Training Capabilities”
This software implementation would bring timely Initial training capabilities to the System Design and Development phase. This software block permits simulating Air to Air and Air to Ground engagements and equips the 17 aircraft of the LRIP 3 lot with delivery schedule between late 2011 and late 2012. The12 aircraft using Block 1A configuration would be upgraded to Block 1B standard.
On Board systems have completed 25% of flight testing and are considered half way to production readiness. Mission systems appear poised with 99% of capabilities implementing new functionality for sensor fusion, electronic warfare and on board imagery as well as system security provisions. These systems have been partially tested (25% of flight test schedules undertaken) while production readiness testing has reached 50%.
Off board systems are still undergoing system integration and test rework for security certification and government acceptance while its mission systems components have incurred an additional 2.5 month schedule slip even though 99% test-verified.
The Off-Board Block 1B software validation regimen has completed 86% of the ALIS/HM test work and 82% of training system integration
Block 2A “Advanced Capabilities”
Improving on the Block 1B, Block 2A systems include enhanced simulated air-to-air and air-to-ground training features incorporating weapons and electronic attack as well as tactical data sharing via the MADL (Multifunction Advanced Data Link) and Link 16 for interoperability. These features cover 32 aircraft of the LRIP lot number 4 scheduled for delivery from late 2012 to early 2013 and the 32 LRIP 5 aircraft due to arrive between early 2013 and early 2014. Following initial deployment on Cooperative Avionics Test Bed in October 2011, 70% of integration work had been completed as of November 2011.
For off-board systems, despite completion of requirement work, system integration and test rework marginally began. Code development code and unit tests have been completed though.
Block 2B “Initial warfighting Capabilities”
F-35 with the Block 2B configuration would in theory be Initial warfighting capable; capable of conducting actual tactical missions such as basic Combat Air Strike and interdiction, equipped with 2 GBU-12, 2 GBU-32 precision bombs, or 2 AMRAAM for air-to-air all internally carried.
Development phase for On-Board component was still limited to development code and unit tests.
Off-Board systems are also in code development and unit tests phase.
The Block 2B would also be available for retrofit on bpard the 64 Block 2A F-35 aircraft initially delivered as lot 4 and 5 and initially fitted with the Block 2A release.
Block 3I (Initial) Tech Refresh 2
With only 30% into its development phase completed, the Block 3I (Initial) did no present a challenge other than being a Technical Refresh 2 version implementing the Block 2B variant on a hardware processor upgrade. The 38 aircraft of LRIP lot 6 due between early 2014 and early 2016, along with the 70 aircraft of LRIP lot 7 due from early 2015to early 2016, will share similar operational capabilities with the 64 Block 2B aircraft. Development work onto the off-boards air craft have been lagging that of the Block 2B ones.
Block 3F (Final) Full War Fighting
This software release would pave the way for the F-35 to conform in full to “war fighting” status as defined in the project Operational Requirements Documents. The 110 aircraft scheduled for delivery as LRIP lot 8 between early 2016 to early 2017 will display the Block 3F build. The LRIP lot 9 aircraft due probably beyond 2017 have not yet been accounted into a order schedule. When retrofitted onto LRIP 6 and 7 aircraft, the Block 3F (“Final”) software release will be the definitive F-35 war-ready configuration. It is estimated that on-board systems definition requirements are still being finalized.
The 2012 selected acquisition report relates the note of caution emitted by legislators regarding progress on the Block 3 configuration: “Under the recently revised F-35 schedule the committee notes that development of block three hardware and software components will not be complete before 2015 and believes that the request to procure kits to retrofit 25 LRIP F-35A aircraft to the block three configuration is premature. Accordingly the committee recommends $7.6 million, a decrease of $86.6 million for F-35A modifications.”
In a similar fashion, SAR 2012 reports the deferment of Fiscal Year 2014 $115.7 million funding for the development of Block 4 “Enhanced war fighting mode” that would improve on the Block 3F build on account of additional program risks.
The F-35 software development program represents concurrency development with all its main attributes of risks, delays and inefficiencies applied to an already complex, delay-prone undertaking. The concurrency quick look review of November 29th 2011 considers the F-35 design as still not mature on account of the basic design awaiting the incorporation of numerous changes and modifications. Given the 18 to 24 months median time span required for design modifications to be incorporated,the 725 currently identified Change Requests carry the potential to push the program to the brink.
The discovery of newer software defects, bugs or shortcomings on the aircraft’s multiple software Block releases is likely to further stretch the program current SDD testing phase.