The Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) at Arnold AFB in Tennessee could see record-breaking increases in testing for some of its facilities over the next several years as a result of Air Force plans to recapitalize large portions of its aircraft fleet.
Col Timothy West, who oversees the AEDC Test Operations Division, predicts challenging times ahead – but a good kind of challenge: “Our Fiscal Year 2017 wind tunnel workload projections are more than double this year’s user occupancy hours, with additional growth projected in subsequent years. This means the workload in the wind tunnel could reach an historical high, exceeding usage levels seen during the Apollo era. Even as the F-35 prepares to replace the F-16, F-18 and various other fighter aircraft, the Air Force is considering what it should do to replace the F-22.”
He notes the ageing Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system is being replaced by a new ICBM currently called the “Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.” The airborne leg of the strategic trial is also expanding to include the new B-21 Long Range Strategic Bomber as well as a nuclear-capable Long Range Standoff missile to replace the aging AGM-88 Air Launched Cruise Missile. The CTF [Combined Test Forces] will have to balance those requirements with a US$110m Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) that will require a variety of facility outages.
Although forecasts in the Aeropropulsion CTF are not projected to break any records at this point, the engine test workload remains healthy. West foresees additional growth in this area as some of the same programs they are testing in the wind tunnels will need engine testing as well. The Aeropropulsion facilities will also receive a larger US$190m service life extension program in the same timeframe.
July 22, 2016