JSF decontamination testing draws to close

Members of the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force here prepare an F-16 for a final chemical decontamination test here Jan. 30, 2006. The F-16, used in place of an F-35, was sprayed with a chemical simulant, washed, then towed into a hangar and heated from 165- to 185-degree temperatures to accelerate the weathering of the remaining chemical. The goal of the testing is to decontaminate an entire aircraft to quickly return it to service should it be exposed to a chemical or biological agent. (Photo by Mark McCoy)

Members of the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force here prepare an F-16 for a final chemical decontamination test here Jan. 30, 2006. The F-16, used in place of an F-35, was sprayed with a chemical simulant, washed, then towed into a hangar and heated from 165- to 185-degree temperatures to accelerate the weathering of the remaining chemical. The goal of the testing is to decontaminate an entire aircraft to quickly return it to service should it be exposed to a chemical or biological agent. (Photo by Mark McCoy)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force will pull an F-16 out of a special hangar Saturday, marking the culmination of a series of unique tests here.

The F-16 was used as a surrogate for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to test Department of Defense chemical and biological decontamination methods in realistic field conditions to quickly return the aircraft to service quickly, should it ever be exposed to a chemical or biological agent.

"What we're doing now is taking small bites out of what Lockheed is putting together for a proposed decontamination procedure," said Lt. Col. Ed Cassidy, Joint Strike ITF director. "So what we've done is we've taken an old F-16, we've contaminated it with a simulant for chemicals and a simulant for a biological agent and we've practiced these potential decontamination procedures."

Otto Zahn, test director for the chem/bio tests and a member of the JSF ITF, explained one of the final stages of the testing.

"We laid down chemical on the outside of the aircraft, then we washed it and put it in the hot air decon chamber," he said. "It was there for 10 days at 165 to 185 degrees to weather the simulant off the aircraft."

During the test, hot air sample lines drew samples from around the aircraft. Some samples were collected in tubes, which were sent to a laboratory for detailed analysis. Gas chromatographs were connected to the chamber for a quick analysis of the chemical agents coming off the aircraft.

"For the biological test, we used a simulant for bacterial contamination," Mr. Zahn said. "We put the aircraft in a chamber and filled the environment with 200 to 250 parts per million of vaporized hydrogen peroxide for varying lengths of time to kill the bacteria on the aircraft, without having to subject the maintainers to extraordinary efforts of working on a contaminated aircraft."

Mr. Zahn said both the chemical and biologic simulants are non-pathogenic, non harmful materials.

There were no environmental hazards, he said, and no one was in danger due to exposure.

Mr. Zahn said both the chemical and biological simulants are non-pathogenic, non harmful materials, meaning there were no environmental hazards, and no danger due to exposure. Both simulants are more difficult to dispurse or kill than chemical or biological warfare agents.

This project was also unusual for Edwards, in that it didn't actually involve flight testing.

"Edwards seems to be focused on flight test, but there're a lot of other tests that build in to the testing of a big system like the Joint Strike Fighter, and this is one of those," Colonel Cassidy said. "It was really awesome seeing what I consider some of the non-traditional test agencies -- the maintenance group, the environmental folks -- coming out to help us with this logistics test."

Some of those maintainers were on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support the testing.

"We used the wingman concept, having two maintainers on shift at all times to help prevent mishaps," said Tech. Sgt. Thomas Wimmer, 412th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

One of the maintainers' main tasks was to monitor the Aerospace Ground Equipment, specifically the heaters used to keep the hangar at a steady temperature for the test.

"We also towed the aircraft in and out, to wherever the scientists need it to conduct the next portion of the test, and we dropped and closed access panels wherever they were taking samples," Sergeant Wimmer said.

The testing wasn't accomplished by Edwards members alone, though. Contractors, other branches of service, and even allied countries were involved in this phase of the testing.

"The (United Kingdom) has been a really strong partner with us in this particular risk reduction effort," Colonel Cassidy said. "They've got a lot of expertise in decontaminating parts and pieces of airplanes, but this is the first time that a decontamination procedure has been done on this scale, on a full-size airplane.

"So, it was a big team effort between us, the UK, the JSF Program Office and a lot of agencies on base, especially the maintenance group; it was a really big logistics effort."

As well as testing the procedures, the team learned some lessons about the equipment they would need for future use of the decontamination method.

"As it turns out, the shelters we were using didn't fare too well in the high winds we have here at Edwards, so we had to make some modifications to the buildings to continue with testing," Colonel Cassidy said. "Therefore, an unexpected [decon] test result was if we're going to do this in the field later on, and we're going to do this in places where there's potentially a lot of wind, like the Middle East or some of the northern tier states, then we've got to have shelters robust enough to handle the winds and the weather conditions."

While this and other JSF tests are being accomplished at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Lockheed's been busy building the first aircraft.

"We're looking at the first flight of the F-35 at Fort Worth Texas, at the end of the summer," Colonel Cassidy said. "Then, we're going to do some airworthiness checks on it, and when it's ready to accomplish productive flight test, we're going to bring it to Edwards."

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