EL SEGUNDO, Ca: Wyle air crew personnel have become the first aviators to aerially refuel the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variant (STOVL) of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) using a probe-and-drogue refueling system during a recent mission at Lockheed Martin’s Ft. Worth, Tex. manufacturing facility.
These first aerial refueling missions were performed by Wyle aircrew flying a Navy KC-130 tanker aircraft assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Twenty (VX-20) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The refueled aircraft, designated the F-35BF-2, represents one of three variants of this fifth generation strike fighter, developed for the U.S. military and eight allied nations.
Two of the first five F-35B aircraft slated for flight testing arrived at Patuxent River in the last quarter of 2009 and Wyle’s KC-130 aircrew team will continue to assist with refueling missions as testing progresses.
Wyle has the largest independent flight test team in the world with more than 70 members, including 53 pilots, flying 20-plus types of aircraft from supersonic manned jets to helicopters to unmanned flight systems. Among the aircraft flown by Wyle pilots are the F/A-18, V-22, E-2D, P-3, KC-130 and AH-64D.
For the refueling mission, Wyle’s crew included Steve Angay, Craig Homer, Josh Izenour, Jeff Kosich, Chris Loftis, and Bill Smith who support VX-20.
The probe-and-drogue system is used by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and many NATO nations to refuel aircraft in flight. The system uses a flexible hose that terminates in a cone shaped basket extending from an aircraft carrying fuel. The cone shaped basket, or drogue, connects to the probe of an aircraft needing fuel. The fuel is then transferred through the hose from the tanker to the receiving aircraft.
An alternate system, called a flying boom, is used by the U.S. Air Force. This system inserts a rigid flying boom into a receptacle on a receiving aircraft. This is the system employed by the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant of the aircraft, which was the first variant to be aerially refueled.
In preparing to go to Fort Worth, the Wyle KC-130 aircrew worked with the JSF team to develop test plans, determine aircraft configurations representative of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps fleet, and make modifications to the tanker.
“A lot of the initial planning was done by our crew,” said Izenour, Wyle’s KC-130 mission commander. “These guys did an excellent job of mission planning and interfacing with the JSF team which made the actual mission itself — the flying part — go seamlessly. The amount of planning that everyone did on the front side made the execution very, very easy.”
The team planned for variables inherent in the initial test evolutions, where fuel was uploaded into the aircraft at 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000 feet, at speeds ranging from 200 to 250 knots.
“Since it was the first refuel, we didn’t know exactly how the aircraft [JSF] might behave, so we were limited as to how much pressure we could provide to the fuel lines,” said Homer. “From an engineering point of view, we had to keep very close track of the [refueling] panel during the tests.”
Wyle is a leading provider of high tech aerospace engineering and information technology services to the federal government on long-term outsourcing contracts. The company also provides biomedical and engineering services for NASA’s human space missions; test and evaluation of aircraft, weapon systems, networks, and other government assets; and other engineering services to the aerospace, defense, and nuclear power industries.