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772nd Test Squadron uses simulators to support high-priority F-35 test missions

Flight simulators have helped the 772nd Test Squadron provide test capabilities to the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Simulators provide engineers a safe testing environment while mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (Air Force photo illustration courtesy of 772nd Test Squadron)

Flight simulators have helped the 772nd Test Squadron provide test capabilities to the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Simulators provide engineers a safe testing environment while mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (Air Force photo illustration courtesy of 772nd Test Squadron)


As the Air Force Test Center’s 412th Test Wing resumed mission-essential flight testing, the 772nd Test Squadron’s (772 TS) modeling and simulation (Sim) engineers and technicians restarted manned cockpit simulation operations to support flight test mission rehearsals at Edwards Air Force Base, California, April 14.

The 772nd TS reopened their doors to the F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF), the first customer to do so since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted operations at Edwards and much of the world.

“Many of our Dual Capability Aircraft (DCA) test points take us to the limits of F-35 performance,” said Lt. Col. James Valpiani, F-35 ITF Director. “Our test pilots and the entire test team are grateful for the opportunity to buy down risk in the Sim before executing airborne over the Sea Test Range.”

In order for the risk-reducing mission rehearsals could continue to be “flown,” the 772nd TS team spent the previous three weeks with customers and 412th Medical Group advisors to plan the return to safe and effective operations. They developed COVID-19 Contingency Operations Plans that included health-safety walkthroughs and sanitization activities for effective simulator operations while maintaining the health and safety of the 772nd TS operators and technicians, and the F-35 ITF crews and engineers.

Some of the changes included tighter control of personnel in the simulation labs, redesigning engineering workstation layouts to provide six-foot separation, and facilitating and encouraging the use of regular sanitization and physical distancing policies before, during and after flight rehearsals. Capt. Aaron Bonilla, 772nd TS Assistant Director of Operations, spearheaded the integration of all the information to create clear and concise procedures for the simulators. 

“These COVID-19 mitigation procedures start before the customer enters the compound with the pre-sanitization cleaning of major touch points and equipment and continue with further sanitization after the customer has ended their simulation,” Bonilla said.

While forwarding Valpiani thanks for this effort, Kirk Harwood, 772nd TS Director, reminded the Integrated Facility for Avionics Test (IFAST) team stating, “Why should we take the risk of working during the COVID-19 Pandemic? We do because it matters. Every simulation is an opportunity to save a life, and makes a test more efficient and less costly.”

Getting to performance limits in flight test often requires the pilot to maneuver the aircraft into unusual attitudes, such as pointing directly at the ground, while keeping several different parameters within precise and narrow bounds, including speed and altitude. Meanwhile the test team must monitor many flight and system parameters to ensure the safety of the pilot and the quality of the test data.

Simulation-based rehearsals are imperative to mission success as they prepare both test crew and test team for the many demands they will face real-time. As the F-35 DCA mission rehearsal illustrates, simulator operations at the 772nd TS enable the 412th Test Wing to provide world class support to the Warfighter and the nation.

“The IFAST stands ready to support our next mission,” said Capt. Philmore Scott, 772nd TS, Simulation Flight Commander. “These missions are critical to Edwards Air Force Base’s role as the ‘Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe.’”

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