Category Archives: Air

F-16 Block 70

Lockheed Martin on January 24, 2023 announced the successful first flight of the F-16 Block 70 at its Greenville, South Carolina site.

F-16 Block 70
F-16 Block 70 first flight

The flight occurred January 24 at 9:17 a.m. ET, with Lockheed Martin test pilots Dwayne «Pro» Opella and Monessa «Siren» Balzhiser at the helm. Total flight time was approximately 50 minutes and included airworthiness checks, such as engine, flight control and fuel system checks, as well as basic aircraft handling.

«Today’s successful flight is a testament of the hard work, dedication and commitment to our customers and their missions», said OJ Sanchez, vice president, Integrated Fighter Group, which includes the F-16 program. «This milestone demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to advancing this program and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced 21st Century Security capabilities to the warfighter».

This F-16 Block 70 jet is the first of 16 jets to be delivered to Bahrain. Six countries have selected Block 70/72 aircraft. In addition to the current official backlog of 128 jets to-date to be built in Greenville, Jordan last year signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for eight jets and last week signed an additional LOA for four more jets. Lockheed Martin has received a contract to begin Jordan’s long-lead activities. Bulgaria has also signed an LOA for an additional eight jets for its fleet. Once these are finalized, the backlog will increase to 148.

«Lockheed Martin is fully committed to delivering quality platforms for our customers’ critical missions, and I am so proud of our talented team in Greenville», said Danya Trent, F-16 Vice President and Site Lead in Greenville. «This is the culmination of significant development, design, digital engineering, supply chain and production line advances to an already proven platform that will continue to deliver decades of service in support of customers’ national security».

F-16 Block 70/72
F-16 Block 70 first flight against the sky

 

About the F-16

The F-16 is a strategic and valuable choice for many customers around the world seeking advanced, 4th generation fighter aircraft capabilities, regional and worldwide partnerships, and affordable lifecycle costs. More than 3,000 F-16s are operating today in 25 countries. The F-16 has flown an estimated 19.5 million flight hours and at least 13 million sorties. Today’s latest version, the Block 70/72, offers unparalleled capabilities and will be flown by at least five countries beginning in the mid-2020s.

GV22-0020 F-16 Bahrain EB1 First Flight 20230125 V2 from LM Aero Multimedia on Vimeo.

5,000th «Hawk»

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, on January 20, 2023 delivered its 5,000th «Hawk» variant helicopter, a U.S. Army UH-60M Black Hawk. The iconic aircraft will continue to support medium-lift requirements for the U.S. military and international operators for decades into the future.

UH-60M Black Hawk
Sikorsky marks the delivery of the 5,000th «Hawk» helicopter, a UH-60M (pictured), at its headquarters in Stratford, Connecticut, January 20, 2023 (Photo courtesy Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company)

Sikorsky celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

«Sikorsky, as a company, has been forged by the Black Hawk», said Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo. «The Black Hawk and its variants deliver when reliability and performance are nonnegotiable. Hawk aircraft continue to demonstrate their versatility and readiness with the latest technological advancements and ongoing U.S. and global investment in the aircraft».

Customers worldwide depend on the Black Hawk platform and its derivatives, including MH-60R/S maritime operations helicopters, MH-60T multi-mission helicopters, HH-60W rescue helicopters and internationally built S-70 Black Hawks to include the baseline FIREHAWK, which have all proven their versatility and capability across a spectrum of challenging mission sets.

Sikorsky’s highly skilled and experienced workforce manufactures the latest generation of Hawk aircraft built in Stratford, and there is high international demand for the Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk, manufactured by Lockheed Martin’s PZL Mielec facility in Poland. More than 35 international customers operate the Black Hawk thanks to its global support network and continued modernization.

The U.S. Army, the largest Black Hawk operator, noted the key role the aircraft continues to fulfill during military and civil operations around the world, in addition to its significant contribution towards Joint All Domain Operations.

«For more than 40 years the Black Hawk has remarkably supported Soldiers in every major contingency operation the Army has executed», said Colonel Calvin Lane, the utility helicopter project manager for the Program Executive Office Aviation. «Even though the helicopter has been around longer than most of the Soldiers it now supports, the Army plans for it to be in front line service another 40 years and beyond. And everyone who contributes to the delivery of this aircraft in any way, contributes directly to providing combat capability that protects Soldiers and helps the Army accomplish its mission».

Sikorsky
Sikorsky Delivers 5,000th «Hawk», Highlights Versatility and Future of Iconic Helicopter

 

The Future of the Black Hawk

As U.S. Army Future Vertical Lift (FVL) aircraft are fielded, the Black Hawk will remain the foundational tactical air assault and utility aircraft for the U.S. Army. Modernization efforts that improve Black Hawk availability and reliability by lowering direct operating costs include:

  • A Modular Open Systems Approach allowing rapid integration of emerging technologies to maintain relevance in future operations by increasing reach, survivability, lethality and sustainment;
  • Improved Turbine Engine to increase lift capability and range;
  • Advanced Digital Vehicle Management Systems supporting Degraded Visual Environment and automated operations;
  • Digital tools including predictive analytics that reduce aircraft downtime and maintenance costs.

In February 2022, Lockheed Martin flew its first uninhabited Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) Sikorsky UH-60A/S-70 Black Hawk testbed helicopter powered by Sikorsky’s MATRIX autonomy technology in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Subsequent flights at U.S. Army’s Project Convergence 2022 demonstrated future utility missions for the platform, which shows no signs of relinquishing its preeminent medium-lift capability through continuous innovation and investment.

«We are committed to all H-60 and S-70 operators and look forward to enduring partnerships on the Hawk program in the years to come», added Nathalie Previte, vice president of Army and Air Force Systems at Sikorsky. «It remains our priority to fulfill our customers’ requirements and meet the needs of current and future operational units. With unmatched versatility and global interoperability, Hawk aircraft continue to advance 21st century security».

CRANE X-Plane

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected Aurora Flight Sciences to move into the detailed design phase of the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program. This follows successful completion of the project’s Phase 1 preliminary design, which resulted in an innovative testbed aircraft that used Active Flow Control (AFC) to generate control forces in a wind tunnel test. Phase 2 will focus on detailed design and development of flight software and controls, culminating in a critical design review of an X-plane demonstrator that can fly without traditional moving flight controls on the exterior of the wings and tail.

CRANE X-Plane
DARPA CRANE X-Plane configuration in development for flight testing Active Flow Control (AFC) technologies

The contract includes a Phase 3 option in which DARPA intends to fly a 7,000-pound/3,175-kg X-plane that addresses the two primary technical hurdles of incorporation of AFC into a full-scale aircraft and reliance on it for controlled flight. Unique features of the demonstrator aircraft will include modular wing configurations that enable future integration of advanced technologies for flight testing either by DARPA or potential transition partners.

«Over the past several decades, the active flow control community has made significant advancements that enable the integration of active flow control technologies into advanced aircraft. We are confident about completing the design and flight test of a demonstration aircraft with AFC as the primary design consideration», said the CRANE Program Manager Richard Wlezien. «With a modular wing section and modular AFC effectors, the CRANE X-plane has the potential to live on as a national test asset long after the CRANE program has concluded».

The AFC suite of technologies enables multiple opportunities for aircraft performance improvements, such as elimination of moving control surfaces, drag reduction and high angle of attack flight, thicker wings for structural efficiency and increased fuel capacity, and simplified high-lift systems.

«Thanks to a variety of innovative participants, the CRANE program has significantly advanced the state of the art of multiple active flow control technologies», said Wlezien. «We are uniquely positioned to build on those achievements by evaluating a wide range of relevant technologies during our planned X-plane flight tests».

Royal Canadian Air Force

The Government of Canada announced on January 9, 2023, it is procuring Lockheed Martin’s 5th Generation F-35A Lightning II aircraft as a result of the Future Fighter Capability Project competition.

F-35A Lightning II
Canada Announces the Procurement of the F-35 Lightning II

The Royal Canadian Air Force will receive 88 F-35A Lightning II multirole stealth fighters, a sustainment solution tailored to Canada’s sovereign requirements and a comprehensive training program.

«Canada is our friend and a close ally. Their decision to procure almost 90 jets underscores the value of the incredible F-35 Lightning II», said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Mike Schmidt, program executive officer, F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office. «The F-35 is the best in the world, providing unmatched interoperability to America, Canada and the additional 15 nations that have selected the fighter. It is a global game-changer. Through power-projection, the F-35 is at the tip of the spear for deterrence. Its forward presence will continue to ensure that potential adversaries choose diplomacy over armed conflict».

«We are honored the Government of Canada has selected the F-35A Lightning II, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian defence industry to deliver and sustain the aircraft», said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 Lightning II program. «The selection of F-35 strengthens allied airpower in Canada, North America and around the world».

The F-35 Lightning II strengthens Canada’s operational capability with its allies as a cornerstone for interoperability with NORAD and NATO. As a critical node in the 21st Century Security mission space, the F-35 Lightning II gives pilots an advantage against any adversary and enabling them to execute their mission and come home safe.

«Together with our Canadian industry partners, we are honoured by this selection and the sustainment of critical jobs that will continue to equip Canadian workforces with advanced skills», said Lorraine Ben, chief executive, Lockheed Martin Canada. «The F-35 program yields tremendous economic benefits for Canada’s aerospace and defence industry, and we look forward to continued growth».

To date, the F-35 Lightning II operates from 27 bases worldwide, with nine nations operating F-35s on their home soil. There are more than 890 F-35s in service today, with more than 1,870 pilots and 13,500 maintainers trained on the aircraft.

Artificially Intelligent Pilots

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) further advanced its Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) ecosystem by flying three unique missions with Artificially Intelligent (AI) pilots on an operationally relevant Open Mission System (OMS) software stack. A company-owned Avenger Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) was paired with “digital twin” aircraft to autonomously conduct Live, Virtual, and Constructive (LVC) multi-objective collaborative combat missions. The flights, which took place on December 14, 2022, from GA-ASI’s Desert Horizons flight operations facility in El Mirage, California, demonstrate the company’s commitment to maturing its CCA ecosystem for Autonomous Collaborative Platform (ACP) UAS using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). This provides a new and innovative tool for next-generation military platforms to make decisions under dynamic and uncertain real-world conditions.

Avenger
AI Flights Featuring Avenger Advance CCA Ecosystem

The flight used GA-ASI’s novel Reinforcement Learning (RL) architecture built using agile software development methodology and industry-standard tools such as Docker and Kubernetes to develop and validate three deep learning RL algorithms in an operationally relevant environment. RL agents demonstrated single, multi, and hierarchical agent behaviors. The single agent RL model successfully navigated the live plane while dynamically avoiding threats to accomplish its mission. Multi-agent RL models flew a live and virtual Avenger to collaboratively chase a target while avoiding threats. The hierarchical RL agent used sensor information to select courses of action based on its understanding of the world state. This demonstrated the AI pilot’s ability to successfully process and act on live real-time information independently of a human operator to make mission-critical decisions at the speed of relevance.

For the missions, real-time updates were made to flight paths based on fused sensor tracks provided by virtual Advanced Framework for Simulation, Integration, and Modeling (AFSIM) models, and RL agent missions were dynamically selected by operators while the plane was airborne, demonstrating live, effective human-machine teaming for autonomy. This live operational data describing AI pilot performance will be fed into GA-ASI’s rapid retraining process for analysis and used to refine future agent performance.

«The concepts demonstrated by these flights set the standard for operationally relevant mission systems capabilities on CCA platforms», said GA-ASI Senior Director of Advanced Programs Michael Atwood. «The combination of airborne high-performance computing, sensor fusion, human-machine teaming, and AI pilots making decisions at the speed of relevance shows how quickly GA-ASI’s capabilities are maturing as we move to operationalize autonomy for CCAs».

The team used a government-furnished Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) autonomy engine and the government-standard OMS messaging protocol to enable communication between the RL agents and the LVC system. Utilizing government standards such as OMS will make rapid integration of autonomy for CCAs possible.

In addition, GA-ASI used a General Dynamics Mission Systems’ EMC2 to run the autonomy architecture. EMC2 is an open architecture Multi-Function Processor with multi-level security infrastructure that is used to host the autonomy architecture, demonstrating the ability to bring high-performance computing resources to CCAs to perform quickly tailorable mission sets depending on the operational environment.

This is another in an ongoing series of autonomous flights performed using internal research and development funding to prove out important AI/ML concepts for UAS.

Next Generation Radar

Northrop Grumman Corporation is developing AN/APG-85, an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for the F-35 Lightning II. Northrop Grumman currently manufactures the AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fire control radar, the cornerstone to the F-35 Lightning II’s sensor suite.

AN/APG-85
Northrop Grumman is developing the next generation radar for the F-35 Lightning II (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

The AN/APG-85 is an advanced multifunction sensor that will be compatible with all variants of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft and will be capable of defeating current and projected adversarial air and surface threats.

The development and integration of APG-85 will incorporate some of the latest technologies available and help ensure air superiority. This advanced sensor will provide unparalleled battlespace situational awareness that translates into platform lethality, effectiveness and survivability.

Northrop Grumman plays a key role in the development, modernization, sustainment and production of the F-35 Lightning II. In addition to producing the AN/APG-85 and AN/APG-81 radars, the company manufactures the center fuselage and wing skins for the aircraft, produces and maintains several sensor systems, avionics, mission systems and mission-planning software, pilot and maintainer training systems courseware, electronic warfare simulation test capability, and low-observable technologies.

Multi-Domain Operations-ready

On November 10, 2022, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew the first production MQ-9A Reaper Multi-Domain Operations (M2DO)-ready variant of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9A Reaper. This upgraded version of the MQ-9A Reaper Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft, also known as a the «-25», includes key features that will enable future integration and fielding of Open Mission Systems (OMS) as well as new sensors that will further expand the MQ-9A Reaper’s strategic reconnaissance capabilities.

M2DO MQ-9A Reaper
GA-ASI Flies First M2DO MQ-9A Aircraft

Features of the new «-25» include improved power distribution and redundancy, GPS improvements, radar altimeters, nose wheel steering, and Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor system improvements.

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Marine Corps will both receive these improved MQ-9A Reaper Block 5 «-25» M2DO-ready aircraft under current contracts; however, the total number of aircraft receiving these improvements has not been released.

«We’re excited to position the MQ-9A Reaper enterprise for new missions through these capabilities», said GA-ASI Vice President of USAF Programs Claudia Mowery. «Future funding could potentially expand these capabilities to the entire MQ-9A Reaper fleet».

12 air-to-air missiles

Flying locally over the Gulf of Mexico, two F-15EX Eagle II aircraft launched missiles from their new weapon stations, known as Stations 1 and 9, here November 29.

F-15EX Eagle II
F-15EX Eagle II proves out full air-to-air capability

The 96th Test Wing’s pilots fired an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) from Station 1 and an AIM-9X Sidewinder from Station 9 over the Eglin Test and Training Complex’s water range.

This Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force (OFP CTF) mission was the first Air Force test flight to validate the weapons could be fired effectively and safely from those stations. The successful employment of these weapons is a major step in demonstrating the F-15EX Eagle II aircraft’s missile capacity of 12 air-to-air missiles.

«I’m really proud to be a part of this milestone for the F-15EX Eagle II program to deliver increased payload capacity to the combat air forces», said Major Jeremy Schnurbusch, 40th FLTS-attached pilot, who fired the AIM-9X missile.

This is one of many upgrades F-15EX Eagle II brings to the Air Force inventory. Prior to the F-15EX Eagle II, F-15 aircraft models could carry eight air-to-air missiles. The F-15EX Eagle II adds four additional missile stations located toward the wing tips. This mission provided the first test points for validating the expanded carriage and employment capabilities of the Eagle II.

Both aircraft successfully released the missiles on separate passes against a target drone. The releases were another milestone in the F-15EX’s developmental test program, but also incorporated many operational test objectives during the mission.

«Having been a part of the Eglin F-15EX team from day one, it’s exciting to see the progress made and new milestones achieved as we work to field the most combat-capable F-15EX», said Major Brett Hughes, OFP CTF, who successfully fired the AIM-120 from Station 1.

With this success, these missile launches pushed forward the aircraft’s integrated developmental and operational testing here, where the F-15EX Eagle II fired its first missile just nine months ago.

«The integrated test strategy has been critical to our test success, allowing us to break the mold of traditional testing, ultimately resulting in a better overall product for the warfighter in a shorter timeline than a traditional approach», said Colton Myers, OFP CTF F‑15EX Eagle II test project manager.

Once initial testing is complete, operational units receiving the new F-15EX Eagle II will be able to carry and employ a full load-out of 12 missiles on the aircraft upon fielding.

«The F-15EX Eagle II is an incredible addition to the USAF inventory. This event, executed by a top-notch team of test pilots, engineers, and experts, proves yet again the F-15EX Eagle II will be ready if, and when, our adversaries challenge our nation’s interests», said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Wee, OFP CTF commander.

Egyptian Chinook

The U.S. Army has awarded Boeing a contract to produce 12 new CH-47F Chinooks for the Egyptian Air Force. With this $426 million foreign military sale, Egypt will replace its fleet of CH-47D aircraft with the modern F model, and benefit from its advanced multi-mission capabilities.

CH-47F Chinook
Egypt will replace its fleet of CH-47D Chinook aircraft with the modern F model which offers the Egyptian Air Force advanced multi-mission capabilities (Boeing photo)

«The F-model aircraft will enhance Egypt’s Chinook capabilities and help effectively accomplish its heavy-lift objectives», said Ken Eland, vice president and H-47 program manager. «Boeing’s partnership with the Egyptian Air Force remains strong as we continue to work together to modernize their fleet».

The CH-47F Chinook is an advanced multi-mission helicopter for the U.S. Army and international defense forces. It contains a fully integrated, digital cockpit management system, Common Avionics Architecture System cockpit and advanced cargo-handling capabilities complementing the aircraft’s mission performance and handling characteristics.

«Boeing is committed to supporting the defense modernization mission of the Egyptian armed forces and ensuring the best capability for Egypt’s national defense and security», added Vince Logsdon, vice president, Boeing International Business Development.

Team Chinook is led by the U.S. Army, who with 19 allied international customers, collectively operate a fleet of more than 950 aircraft.

Combat Air System

On behalf of the governments of France, Germany and Spain, the French General Directorate for Armament (DGA) has awarded to Dassault Aviation, Airbus, Indra, Eumet and their industrial partners the contract for the Demonstrator Phase 1B of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). This landmark contract, amounting to € 3.2 billion, will cover work on the FCAS demonstrator and its components for about three and a half years.

Future Combat Air System
Europe’s Future Combat Air System

Dassault Aviation, Airbus, Indra and Eumet welcome this major step forward that reflects the determination of France, Germany and Spain to develop a powerful, innovative and fully European weapon system to meet the operational needs of the countries’ armed forces.

This contract notification comes on the heels of the signature of the industrial agreements supporting the demonstrator Phase 1B by Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Indra and Eumet as prime contractors of the programme and by their industrial partners from the three nations. Discussions held over the last months have enabled the creation of a solid basis for cooperation between industry and the three governments.

This continues the successful Phase 1A demonstrators’ related Research and Technology (R&T) work and development activities, which enabled the identification of key technologies and the launch of the demonstrators’ developments. Paving the way for the development phase of the programme, this demonstration phase 1B will allow continuation of flying demonstrators and required cutting-edge technologies development and maturation as well as project architectures consolidation, with in-flight demonstrations targeted in the next phases by 2028-2029.

The programme is made up of a set of systems: New Generation Fighters teaming with Remote Carriers and connected through a Combat Cloud. In order to meet the ambitions and challenges of such a programme, an adapted and efficient industrial organisation has been set-up and built around technological pillars. Each pillar is under the leadership of an industrial champion acting as prime, working in close cooperation with its main partners and leveraging each nation’s aeronautical industrial ecosystems.

In addition to their prime role per pillar, Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra act as national coordinators to ensure the overall coherence of the demonstrators and the overall programme’s steering and work consolidation.

FCAS
On the way to the first flight

The industrial governance of the Phase 1B is organised per domain as follows:

  • Next Generation Weapons System (NGWS) Consistency, Demonstrations and Consolidation with Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra Sistemas as co-contracting partners;
  • New Generation Fighter (NGF), with Dassault Aviation for France as prime contractor, and Airbus as main partner for Germany and Spain;
  • NGF Engine with the 50/50 Joint Venture Eumet – between Safran Aircraft Engines for France and MTU Aero Engines for Germany – as prime contractor and ITP Aero for Spain as main partner;
  • Unmanned systems, Remote Carrier (RC) with Airbus for Germany as prime contractor, MBDA for France and Satnus for Spain as main partners;
  • Combat Cloud (CC) with Airbus for Germany as prime contractor, Thales for France and Indra Sistemas for Spain as main partners;
  • Simulation with Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra Sistemas as co-contracting partners;
  • Sensors with Indra Sistemas as prime for Spain, and Thales for France and FCMS for Germany as main partners;
  • Enhanced Low Observability (stealth) with Airbus as prime contractor for Spain, Dassault Aviation for France and Airbus for Germany as main partners;
  • Common Working Environment with Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Indra Sistemas and Eumet as co-contracting partners.

The industrial partners thank the three nations for their confidence and reiterate their firm commitment and total mobilisation to make this programme the armed wing of Europe’s strategic autonomy thanks to the reinforcement of the operational, technological and industrial sovereignty of its defence.