Edwards test pilots fly experimental light attack aircraft at OA-X competition


By Dario Leone
Sep 10 2017
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The missions flown during OA-X include close air support (CAS), air interdiction (AI), combat search and rescue (CSAR) and strike coordination and reconnaissance (SCAR)

The 416th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) recently sent three test pilots and two flight test engineers to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to participate in the Air Force’s Light Attack Experiment (OA-X).

As told by Kenji Thuloweit, 412th Test Wing Public Affairs, in the article Edwards testers get feel for new experimental light attack aircraft, earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) established vendor parameters in the initial invitation-to-participate in OA-X. Private industry members were asked to propose aircraft that could potentially meet USAF need for a low-cost attack capability that is supportable and sustainable.

Edwards test pilots fly experimental light attack aircraft at OA-X competition
A Beechcraft AT-6 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Jul. 31.

During the first week of the experimental flights in August, Air Force pilots flew basic surface attack missions in Textron Aviation’s AT-6 Wolverine turboprop, as well as in Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano.

Highlighted missions included close air support (CAS), air interdiction (AI), combat search and rescue (CSAR) and strike coordination and reconnaissance (SCAR). OA-X included also the use of weapons generally used on fighter and attack aircraft to evaluate the participating aircraft’s ability to execute traditional counter-land missions.

Two Edwards pilots got to fly the AT-6, which included one experimental flight each where rockets, .50 caliber machine gun and BDU-33 practice bombs were employed.

Edwards test pilots fly experimental light attack aircraft at OA-X competition
A Textron Scorpion experimental aircraft sits at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, Jul. 31

“416th pilots were selected based on the desire to have test pilots evaluate handling qualities, performance, and pilot-vehicle interface characteristics of the experiment aircraft,” said Maj. Ryan Fancher, 416th FLTS assistant director of operations. “This evaluation was completed in conjunction with separate flights by operational test pilots to get a fairly comprehensive look at the aircrafts’ capabilities and mission suitability.”

A third test pilot from the 416th FLTS also flew an Air Tractor Inc. and L3 Platform Integration Division AT-802L Longsword at Holloman.

“After the experiment sortie, each pilot submitted a pilot report and a separate survey in order to capture pertinent handling qualities, performance and (pilot-vehicle interface) aspects of the aircraft,” Fancher said.

Edwards test pilots fly experimental light attack aircraft at OA-X competition
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein shake hands and meet with members from the Light Attack Experiment at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Aug. 9, 2017.

Other Air Force pilots also completed familiarization flights in Textron Aviation’s Scorpion twin-engine jet.

According to Fancher prior to travelling to Holloman, the 416th FLTS team conducted pre-arrival studies. Once at Holloman, one day of academics was accomplished prior to a familiarization sortie, which covered local area procedures and basic operation of the aircraft and its avionics. During the familiarization sortie the test pilot flew from the front seat with an instructor pilot from the aircraft manufacturer in the back seat. The test pilots would later fly the experimentation flight conducting test points and weapon deliveries with the company instructor pilot in the back seat to assist with flight duties.

“It was enjoyable to take part in the opportunity to fly and assess a new aircraft, particularly when it has the potential to positively enhance future warfighting capabilities,” said Fancher.

Edwards test pilots fly experimental light attack aircraft at OA-X competition
The Textron Scorpion experimental aircraft conducts handling and flying quality maneuvers above White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Aug. 4.

Pilots will continue to fly the four aircraft through a range of combat mission scenarios during the live-fly experiment to evaluate each platform’s military utility. Noteworthy the live-fly experiment is part of a broader Air Force effort to explore cost-effective attack platform options under the Light Attack Experimentation Campaign run by the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

As we have previously explained Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas, director of Air Force public affairs, told that OA-X program is aimed to find a cheaper CAS platform that would be needed to perform the mission over permissive environments which don’t require F-22 or F-35 stealth fighters. However it must be noted that OA-X program is not focused on finding an aircraft to replace the venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II but rather on finding a light attack aircraft to complement the Hog in CAS missions.

A-10 Thunderbolt II print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.  A-10C Thunderbolt II 127th W, 107th FS Red Devils, MI/80-265 / 2014

Photo credit: Christopher Okula and Christopher Okula / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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