T‑7A Red Hawk Program Gaining Speed

 In GDI, Land, Defense, Air, Environment, Information

T‑7A Red Hawk Program Gaining Speed

Photo: Boeing — Saab

Last year the Air Force announced that it had tapped a Boeing-Saab team to build its next-gen­er­a­tion pilot train­er that would pre­pare its avi­a­tors for future fights. A year out, the team is hit­ting pro­gram mile­stones as it works to deliv­er the first air­craft in 2023.

The T‑7A Red Hawk “will be the staple of a new gen­er­a­tion of air­craft,” said Matthew Donovan, then-acting sec­re­tary of the Air Force, during remarks at an indus­try con­fer­ence in September. Donovan has since returned to his posi­tion as under­sec­re­tary of the Air Force fol­low­ing the swear­ing in of Barbara Barrett as sec­re­tary of the ser­vice in October.

“The Red Hawk offers advanced capa­bil­i­ties for train­ing tomorrow’s pilots on data links, sim­u­lat­ed radar, smart weapons, defen­sive man­age­ment sys­tems, as well as syn­thet­ic train­ing capa­bil­i­ties,” Donovan said.

The first air­craft and its asso­ci­at­ed sim­u­la­tors are slated to arrive at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, in 2023 as a replace­ment for the T‑38C Talon train­er, he added.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the dif­fer­ence between the T‑38 and the service’s fifth-gen­er­a­tion plat­form, the F‑35 joint strike fight­er, is night and day.

“But with the T‑7A the dis­tance is much, much small­er, and that’s impor­tant because it means the pilots trained on it will be that much better, that much faster at a time when we must be able to train to the speed of the threat,” he said in a state­ment.

The Air Force’s indef­i­nite-deliv­ery/in­def­i­nite-quan­ti­ty con­tract for the T‑7A has an esti­mat­ed ceil­ing of $9.2 bil­lion for both the air­craft and ground-based train­ing sys­tems. The con­tract pro­vid­ed for the antic­i­pat­ed deliv­ery of 351 air­craft, 46 asso­ci­at­ed train­ing devices and other ancil­lary sup­plies and ser­vices such as ini­tial spares, sup­port equip­ment, sus­tain­ment and train­ing. Additionally, it also includes the ini­tial deliv­ery order for engi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing devel­op­ment of the air­craft and ground-based com­po­nents for $813.39 mil­lion.

According to the con­tract agree­ment, the max­i­mum number of air­craft and train­ing devices the Air Force can pur­chase is 475 planes and 120 ground-based train­ing sys­tems. Work is expect­ed to be com­plet­ed by 2034.

The T‑7A will include sta­di­um seat­ing, an advanced cock­pit and dig­i­tal fly-by-wire flight con­trols, accord­ing to Boeing. It employs a General Electric F404 engine and has a wingspan of 30.60 feet, a length of 46.93 feet and a height of 13.55 feet.

Steve “Bull” Schmidt, the company’s chief test pilot for the T‑7A, said the air­craft — along with its advanced ground-based sim­u­la­tors — offers a sub­stan­tial increase in capa­bil­i­ty over the T‑38.

The plat­form “is very easy to fly and I think with all the modern avion­ics that we have in it, flying is kind of the easy part,” he said. “Historically, just trying to fly the air­plane was enough … to demon­strate if the stu­dent has the capa­bil­i­ty to fly fast jets. But now I think this air­craft is easy [enough] to fly that we … [can] task them with tac­ti­cal sce­nar­ios.”
The train­er will be com­pat­i­ble with air­craft such as the F‑15, F‑16, F‑35, F‑22 and bomber fleets, he said.

The aircraft’s sta­di­um seat­ing — which places the instruc­tor pilot in an ele­vat­ed posi­tion behind and above the stu­dent avi­a­tor — is par­tic­u­lar­ly ben­e­fi­cial, Schmidt noted.
With the legacy T‑38 system, some instruc­tors described the van­tage point as sim­i­lar to being inside a cave due to its lim­it­ed vis­i­bil­i­ty, he noted. However, with the Red Hawk, the instruc­tor in the back “can actu­al­ly see for­ward through the wind­screen,” he said. “It’s easier for him to mon­i­tor what the stu­dent is doing.”

The air­craft also fea­tures a glass cock­pit which includes a large-area touch­screen dis­play, Schmidt said. Additionally, it has an upfront con­trol system that allows stu­dents to enter in radio fre­quen­cies, way­points and nav­i­ga­tion infor­ma­tion.

The T‑7A was also built with safety in mind, he said.

“We knew the air­plane had to be robust enough to handle the student’s common mis­takes … and still recov­er from that and let him and the air­plane come back safely,” Schmidt said. “We built in a lot of redun­dan­cies so if some sys­tems fail it’s still going to be easy to come back and land.”

For exam­ple, the air­craft could lose a gen­er­a­tor or a hydraulic pump and still land safely, he said.

The com­pa­ny offi­cial­ly began the Air Force’s engi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing devel­op­ment phase in June, Schmidt said. Boeing has built two air­craft — known as the T1 and T2 — and is work­ing to demon­strate test require­ments needed for the ser­vice to accept the planes.

Flight tests are being con­duct­ed out of St. Louis. In September, Boeing con­duct­ed its 100th flight with the test air­craft, he said. The T1 has flown more than 100 hours, and the T2 has flown around 30 hours.

While the T1 and T2 are iden­ti­cal, they are both equipped with dif­fer­ent spe­cial test equip­ment, Schmidt said. During the com­pe­ti­tion phase of the pro­gram, the T1 was used as a “work­horse” to col­lect flight data, he said.

Boeing is cur­rent­ly stag­ger­ing the planes’ flights, with one flying after the other. The com­pa­ny has enough per­son­nel that the plat­form can be flown up to six times a week if needed, he added.

Additionally, depend­ing on weath­er, there have been occa­sions where the sys­tems can fly mul­ti­ple times a day, he said. Flights gen­er­al­ly last around an hour and five min­utes to an hour and 15 min­utes.

So far, the com­pa­ny has pushed the T‑7A’s flight speed enve­lope out to near the super­son­ic thresh­old, Schmidt said.

The air­craft — which went from a clean-sheet design to first flight in 36 months — also recent­ly con­duct­ed a suc­cess­ful high-speed, low-alti­tude flight test that was com­plet­ed at MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, said Randy Jackson, a Boeing spokesper­son.

In about a year, Boeing should receive its first advanced pilot train­er, or APT, air­craft, Schmidt said. APT1 and APT2 will be instru­ment­ed test jets, and a third plat­form will be used for mis­sion system tests, he added.

Boeing will be com­menc­ing air-start test­ing short­ly, Schmidt said. That will verify that the engine can start and restart while air­borne.

The com­pa­ny has a goal to fly an aver­age of five times a week, he added.

The T‑7A pack­age will include not only air­craft but advanced ground-based sim­u­la­tors to train pilots before they ever set foot in a plane, said Steve Dobronski, flight sim­u­la­tion and test engi­neer for T‑7A ground-based train­ing sys­tems at Boeing.

“The weapon system train­er and oper­a­tional flight train­er devices will have the most advanced out-the-window visual dis­play system field­ed in an air­craft flight sim­u­la­tor,” he said in an email. “They will fea­ture the high­est fideli­ty visual dis­plays ever field­ed on a pro­duc­tion air­craft sim­u­la­tor system.”

Additionally, the air­crew train­ing devices — which include the weapon system train­er, oper­a­tional flight train­er and unit train­ing device — will be designed and tested to ensure that they repli­cate the aircraft’s phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics and per­for­mance, Dobronski said.

“This level of fideli­ty will allow the [U.S. Air Force] and other future cus­tomers to move many train­ing tasks from the air­craft them­selves to the sim­u­la­tors,” he added.

One exam­ple includes the addi­tion of a night-vision goggle capa­bil­i­ty into the train­ing system which will give pilots improved night flight train­ing ear­li­er in the process, he added.

The T‑7A sim­u­la­tor recent­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in a pro­gram-level system require­ments review/system func­tion­al review, Dobronski said. It also con­duct­ed a suc­cess­ful pre­lim­i­nary design review.

Once deliv­ered, the sim­u­la­tors will give pilots the option to net­work with other avi­a­tors locat­ed at dif­fer­ent bases, he noted.

“The weapon system train­er and oper­a­tional flight train­er devices can be net­worked togeth­er at a train­ing base in var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions to sup­port multi-air­craft train­ing events,” he said. “Live air­craft can also be net­worked togeth­er using the onboard train­ing data link and the onboard embed­ded train­ing capa­bil­i­ty.”

Additionally, the live air­craft and the train­ing devices can be net­worked togeth­er to con­duct multi-air­craft inte­grat­ed live, vir­tu­al and con­struc­tive train­ing events, he said. LVC com­bines sim­u­la­tion, live train­ing and com­put­er models to create a com­pre­hen­sive train­ing envi­ron­ment.

Boeing sees a bur­geon­ing market for the train­er abroad and esti­mates a global market for 2,600 sys­tems, said Thom Breckenridge, the company’s vice pres­i­dent for inter­na­tion­al sales for strike, sur­veil­lance and mobil­i­ty.

As nations retire aging air­craft, strug­gle with afford­abil­i­ty of exist­ing air­craft, and pursue new fight­er jets, “we absolute­ly are con­fi­dent in the market assess­ment,” he said ear­li­er this year during a brief­ing at the Paris Air Show.

“We are out dis­cussing this brand new capa­bil­i­ty with cus­tomers,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of inter­na­tion­al inter­est.”

That inter­est hasn’t been lim­it­ed to a single region, Breckenridge said.

The com­pa­ny sees the T‑7A “as being the path­way for pilots all over the world for all types of capa­bil­i­ties … both now and in the future,” he said. Different deriv­a­tives or vari­ants of the train­er could be cre­at­ed to meet the needs of for­eign cus­tomers. “This was designed for growth from the very begin­ning,” he added.

While the train­er will offer cus­tomers such as the Air Force enhanced capa­bil­i­ties, a Congressional Research Service report titled, “Air Force T‑7A Red Hawk Trainer,” said the pro­gram poses some poten­tial over­sight issues for Congress.

“Given the ramp-up in F‑35A pur­chas­es, addi­tion­al KC-46 lots and devel­op­ment of the B‑21 bomber, what is the impact of a fourth major defense acqui­si­tion pro­gram to the [U.S. Air Force] budget?” the report said. “Specific to the T‑7A acqui­si­tion, Congress may wish to con­sid­er the cor­rect number of train­er air­craft and ground-based train­ing sys­tems along with timing of their pro­cure­ment and field­ing.”

In President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget pro­pos­al, the admin­is­tra­tion request­ed $348.47 mil­lion for the train­er.

Additionally, Congress will need to con­sid­er whether the Air Force should accel­er­ate the field­ing of the T‑7A given the increase in number of fifth-gen­er­a­tion air­craft in the service’s inven­to­ry, the report said.

— Additional report­ing by Jon Harper

Topics: Training and Simulation, Air Power

Source: NDIA

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