Edwards Air Force Base Plays Pivotal Role in Next Generation Aerial Target (NGAT) Development

  • Published
  • By Harlan Huntington
  • 412th Test Wing Public Affairs

Edwards Air Force Base has long served as a cornerstone for aerospace innovation. Recently, the base's 412th Maintenance Group hosted Exosonic, an aerospace startup, to collaborate on the development of a Next Generation Aerial Target under a Small Business Innovation Research contract.

"The amount of data we could gather was invaluable," said Tie Norris, CEO of Exosonic, highlighting the significance of the visit to Edwards AFB. The Exosonic design team was particularly interested in evaluating existing aircraft platforms, mainly the F-16 and T-38, to incorporate their systems such as landing gear and external surface flight controls into the new NGAT design.

It's crucial to understand the unique role of the NGAT. Unlike other fighter aircraft, the NGAT is designed to be shot down for weapons testing purposes. Therefore, while it's essential to develop a fighter capable of mimicking enemy aircraft, the NGAT is not the platform for groundbreaking innovation. Instead, the focus is on cost-effectiveness and efficiency. By harvesting systems from near-end-of-life jets like the F-16 and T-38, Exosonic aims to keep costs low and expedite production, as these systems have already been engineered and proven effective.

The Exosonic team praised the 412 MXG team for going above and beyond in their hosting duties, especially Rudy Baisa, who facilitated most of the visit. Mr. Baisa from the Organizational Design and Improvement Office has been a strong advocate for innovation, supporting numerous AFWERX SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer projects over the past two years.

"The 412 MXG coordinated with Exosonic to schedule and capture the T-38 and F-16 items of interest," Baisa said. His team worked closely with various maintenance personnel to facilitate access to the aircraft. This collaboration allowed the capture of essential data, including photos of actuators and struts that could be used to support the NGAT project and reduce its cost.

The visit was not just an Edwards AFB effort but a coast-to-coast collaboration involving multiple Air Force organizations. Baisa's remarks emphasized the 412 MXG's alignment with the National Defense Strategy to "innovate and rapidly adjust to new strategic demands." The successful efforts have allowed the Aerial Targets Systems Program Office to leverage available Air Force assets to aid in the design, development, and modernization of the NGAT.

"It is very rewarding to be a part of the AFWERX SBIR efforts," Baisa added, "This is what we do at Edwards AFB, and it's a great example of how the 412 MXG supports and contributes to the Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe objective."

The collaboration between Edwards AFB and Exosonic serves as a testament to the base's commitment to fostering innovation while maintaining cost-effectiveness and efficiency. The project not only aids Exosonic in its quest to develop a new generation of aerial targets but also exemplifies how Edwards AFB continues to be a significant contributor to aerospace advancements.