Military Aviation

USAF is testing Alpha Jet to see if it can fill the F-16’s chase plane role

“Although the Alpha Jet isn’t as capable as the F-16, it can service the part of the test support mission that doesn’t require the higher-end capabilities of the F-16,” Christopher Klug, 412th OG technical director

Folks at the 412th Operations Group (OG) is running an experiment to see if they could swap out the F-16 and replace it with the Alpha Jet for safety chase and flying as a target.

Christopher Klug, 412th OG technical director, explained that although “the Alpha Jet isn’t as capable as the F-16, it can service the part of the test support mission that doesn’t require the higher-end capabilities of the F-16.”

As explained by Kenji Thuloweit, 412th Test Wing Public Affairs in the article 412th OG chasing options for test support with Alpha Jet, Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) currently has two Alpha Jets contracted through Modern Technology Solutions, Inc. and Gauntlet Aerospace to support certain test sorties as an experiment to see what they can offer.

According to Gauntlet Aerospace, the owner of the jets, the two-seat Alpha Jets were designed to be light attack and trainer aircraft in the 1970s through a partnership between French aircraft company Dassault and German company Dornier. The Alpha Jet was also designed to be launched quickly after each sortie and does not require ground-support equipment. The jets are still in military service in France, Belgium, Egypt, Portugal, Thailand, and are operated by French test pilot school EPNER and Britain’s Empire Test Pilot School, according to Gauntlet.

Klug added that Alpha Jets can be well-suited to handle shorter-length test support missions executed at around 30,000 feet and less than 0.8 Mach speed. So far, Alpha Jets have supported test missions with F-16s, F-15s, F-22s, B-1s and F-35s, he said.

Among the roles played by a chase there is the ability to capture visual data plane and the 412th OG hopes more test missions can be properly documented with lower-priority test missions getting the necessary photographic documentation needed.

“The F-16 is a much more versatile photo platform than the Alpha Jet, but there just aren’t enough D-models (two-seat versions) to go around,” said Christian Turner, Media Fusion Aerial Photography manager. [U.S.A.F. Test Pilot School] is a pretty high priority when it comes to getting D-models since they’re required to have instructors for most of their flights. Having access to Alpha Jets simply gives us greater access to a two-seat photo chase platform.”

As with all testing at Edwards AFB, data will be analyzed and leaders will decide if Alpha Jets can be used as permanent fixtures to support future tests.

Photo credit: Ethan Wagner / U.S. Air Force

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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