Line ‘Em Up, Head ‘Em Out

Aircrews flying six C-17s strategic airlifters were put through their formation-flying paces recently as engineers with the Global Reach Combined Test Force at Edwards AFB, Calif., worked to pinpoint the source of “electronic interference” on the aircraft’s formation flight system that limited its ability to “see” other aircraft. Edwards testers discovered the issue amid “several system deficiencies” during testing last year at the California base and Pope AFB, N.C., where the test involved four aircraft. Air Force and C-17-maker Boeing engineers have analyzed data since the last test, but the source of the electronic interference remained elusive, so they asked for a six-ship formation. “The thought process was the more aircraft there are in the formation, the more demand you are putting on the system and the more changes you will be able to see these deficiencies,” said Lt. Col. James Hanley, 418th Flight Test Squadron commander. The scale of the test, said Henley, required “specific formation geometries” to plot which aircraft “needs to be in what position.” During the test, explained Maj. Mark Jones Jr., 418th FLTS experimental test pilot, the formation was 10 miles long, requiring “a lot of forethought and planning.” Jones believes the “formation flight system is head and shoulders above the C-17’s legacy formation system,” called station keeping equipment, and will “make formation flying easier for the pilots, thereby increasing airdrops and supplies to warfighters.” (Edwards report by SrA. Julius Delos Reyes)