EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Benefield Anechoic Facility, known to most on base as "the BAF," is an intricate part of the Air Force Flight Test Center and is involved with testing almost every airplane, domestic and foreign, that comes to Edwards.
The BAF was built back in the 1980s to support Rockwell North American's newest bomber, the B-1 Lancer. The facility was named after the B-1 program's chief test pilot, Tommie "Doug" Benefield after his death in 1984 during a test flight using a B-1A prototype that crashed near Edwards.
The facility opened for business in 1989 when the B-1B bomber was the first airplane to go through testing at the huge building.
The BAF is operated and maintained by the 772nd Test Squadron, which belongs to the 412th Electronic Warfare Group whose mission is to provide America and its allies expertise and credible capabilities to perform survivability test and evaluation, as well as interoperability testing and anomaly investigation, that ensures continued worldwide air dominance.
To do that, the 772nd must provide unbeatable survivability testing and analysis, which is mostly done at the BAF.
The squadron is made up of 146 men and women who come from the military, civilian and contractor worlds led by its commander, Lt. Col. Taylor "Spanky" Selden.
Maj. Eric "Mutha" Rucker, director of operations for the 772nd Test Squadron explained some of what the squadron does at the BAF.
"Our job here is to increase the survivability of the aircraft and inturn its aircrew."
The Intregrated Facility for Avionics Systems Test side of the facility works on computer modeling and simulation testing for survivability. This is where the squadron maintains and tests all the aircraft simulators. They have simulators for the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-22, F-16 and the B-1.
"Currently, at IFAST, our focus is building up the JSF simulators," the major said. There are three at the facility that are operational so far.
On the BAF side, the squadron conducts electromagnetic characterization of the aircraft and antenna components inside the anechoic chamber. There the squadron is able to provide an environment where the aircraft systems can be tested and verified that they work properly prior to flight test.
The anechoic chamber is filled with polyurethane and polyethylene pyramids designed to stop reflections of electromagnetic waves. The size of the pyramids, which are painted dark blue or black, varies; depending on the particular frequency and test procedure being conducted. The cones, which range from 18 inches high to 6 feet tall, insulate the chamber from exterior sources of Radio Frequency noise and are capable of blocking electromagnetic waves up to 18.0 gigahertz with 100 decibels of isolation. The combination of both features enables the chamber to simulate the quiet open space that aircraft fly their missions in.
"Once inside the chamber nothing from the outside world can get in, No signals can come in and no signals can go outside of the chamber," Major Rucker explained.
He said it's the isolation from outside interferences that enables testers to determine the electromagnetic compatibility of the airplane's systems.
The BAF is the largest anechoic chamber in the world and can fit pretty much any airplane inside. It's 264 feet long, 250 feet wide and 70 feet high. It comes furnished with about $700 million worth of equipment that includes two 40-ton hoists that can lift any fighter-size aircraft, and a 175-ton, 80-foot diameter turntable that holds the larger airplanes and can rotate 360 degrees.
The huge sliding door at the entrance where the airplanes are towed into the chamber takes 45 minutes to open.
Major Rucker calls the one-of-its-kind facility a national treasure and says it has the capability of real-time monitoring, recording and presentation of high pulse density signals, which means testers can simulate a threat environment inside the chamber.
"That way, before sending our warfighters into a hostile territory, we can simulate the threat environment so it won't be the first time our warfighter faces that threat," Major Rucker said.
Three main tests are performed in the chamber, the Electro Magnetic Interference/ Electro Magnetic Capability test, which determines if the aircraft interferes with one another and if the systems are compatible when they are all operating at the same time. The EMI/EMC test will show any negative effects that may affect the aircraft survivability.
The second main test is the Antenna Pattern test where they characterize each antenna capability on the aircraft, and the third is the Radar Warning Receiver, or the RWR as it's called in the trade, and that's where testers simulate different types of threats and test how aircraft react to and jam radar signals.
"When an aircraft comes into the BAF for testing, one or all three of the main tests are performed on the aircraft or a component," the major said.
Testers want to do as much as they can up front in model simulation on ground tests, "Then when we're happy from the ground test perspective, we'll clear the aircraft to do the flight test," he said.
The reason for that is twofold. "It saves money, but more importantly, we're making sure the flight will be safe," he said, adding, "When an aircraft goes through ground testing here, we leave nothing to chance."
Testing aircraft at the BAF saves money because what would normally take years to test in the field, can be completed in much less time at the anechoic chamber.
"The United Kingdom said they completed three years of flight testing in one month, by conducting their tests here," Major Rucker said.
The BAF supports all U.S. allies. The Royal Australian Air Force just completed testing their F-18A Super Hornet.
The CV-22, the MC-130, the Global Hawk and the X-51 have all undergone testing at the BAF.
The Euro Hawk is scheduled for testing in the BAF next spring. The F-18 Hornet is scheduled in the near future and Major Rucker says for countries to come all the way here for their testing gives one an idea why the BAF is a national treasure.
"In the last two years we completed 22 electronic warfare tests. Eleven different types of aircraft went through our facility," he said.
The BAF pulls in more than $26 million a year in customer-paid revenue.
"There isn't another facility anywhere that can do what we do here at the BAF," Major Rucker said.