After 61 years of rich history and an unwavering commitment to provide the warfighter with the most advanced systems and technologies, the Air Force Flight Test Center, re-designated as the Air Force Test Center, will function as a cornerstone in the Air Force Materiel Command’s 5-Center construct.
AFTC will oversee developmental test and evaluation at Edwards, Eglin AFB, Fla. and the Arnold Engineering and Development Complex, Tenn.
This is not the first time developmental test and evaluation processes have experienced transition. Changes to the process began happening before World War II to better meet the needs of the warfighter and nation’s defense.
For example, after historic aviation milestones such as the breaking of the sound barrier, the Air Force Flight Test Center was established to meet the Air Force’s need for more structured flight test.
“The establishment of the Air Force Flight Test Center in June of 1951 acknowledged that this was already the center of Air Force flight test with an experienced group of test professionals,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith, AFTC historian. “This codified the center’s mission of executing flight test on aircraft and aircraft systems.”
The AFFTC is home to a long list of aviation accomplishments and milestones, such as Pete Knight’s fastest X-15 flight at Mach 6.70.
Under AFFTC leadership, Lt. Col. N.K. Dyson completed more than 50 flights for the highly classified low-observables program, known as HAVE BLUE, which ultimately led to the development of the F-117A Nighthawk program, a revolutionary development in stealth capabilities.
In September of 1985, then Maj. Wilbert “Doug” Pearson successfully shot down the P78-1 satellite, orbiting more than 300 miles above. The precise mission required Pearson to fly an F-15 at high subsonic speeds over the Pacific Ocean, climb at a steep angle, and then launch a three-stage anti-satellite missile – an impressive demonstration of the AFFTC’s real-world impact.
Since its inception more than six decades ago, the AFFTC has overseen the first flights of more than 150 aircraft, responded to time-sensitive needs by developing new weapons systems to be rapidly deployed to the warfighter, and continuously pushed the envelope to make aircraft and systems not only safer, but more capable, efficient and effective.
Although the history of the AFFTC is incredibly rich, developmental test and evaluation for the United States Air Force is an important mission shared by Edwards, Eglin and Arnold.
“For all of the things that have been done at Edwards over the years, you could go to Eglin and find the same story with weapons systems. Often times there’s some overlap in terms of flight test. Things have been tested at Edwards and Eglin. That is why the integration of the developmental test and evaluation community is so important,” said Dr. Joseph Mason, AFTC chief historian.
Recognizing the benefits of integrating AFMC’s test enterprise, the Air Force Test Center was established, changing the mission for the former Air Force Flight Test Center and broadening its focus.
“The mission has changed and our focus is now the entire test enterprise, not just Edwards. We have to focus on all parts of that enterprise equally and can’t show favoritism to any one of the locations,” said Brig. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., AFTC commander. “We have to look at all aspects of test from early modeling, wind tunnel or ground test, through graduation exercise with weapons drops and flight test. All of these pieces must fit together. That is the center’s focus – the whole spectrum of test activity.”
Transitioning to the AFTC is a milestone in the evolution of developmental test and evaluation, as for the first time, one center will oversee AFMC’s test enterprise.
Leaders believe it will allow for standardization in processes and the ability to most appropriately allocate funding, allowing for a more efficient delivery of capabilities to the warfighter. The consolidation will maximize the effectiveness of developmental test and evaluation, which should benefit the warfighter, as well as the tax payer.
“This is an opportunity to look across these very professional organizations and identify best practices in business operations, customer interaction and warfighter support. We will apply those processes across all locations where feasible so we’re more efficient and effective. We intend to improve our performance and what we’re delivering to the program offices and in the end, what AFMC is delivering to the warfighter,” said Bunch.
“AFFTC has done a remarkable job supporting warfighters. We have taken Global Hawks that were in developmental test and when called upon before they were ever finished, deployed testers and contractors down range to support operations. All other locations have done similar things to support the warfighter. The overall impact to the warfighter should be more timely and efficient test execution,” he continued.
Although the journey of transitioning will not happen overnight, Bunch looks forward to working with the men and women throughout AFMC’s test enterprise to put best practices forward and continue the traditions of excellence together.
“I look forward to working with the men and women of the test center to set this off on the right foot so we are successful. This, I believe and many believe, is really a great step to provide better support to the warfighter,” said Bunch. “Our focus is no longer limited to one location. It’s that diversity of mission, culture, and successes that I believe will merge us into a more efficient and effective organization.”
Although change can be difficult, the transition provides a unique opportunity for members of the AFTC to share knowledge, resources, and processes that better serve the nation and create an impressive legacy for the new organization.
“Each of the locations has a rich history and legacy of professionalism and outstanding support. The AFTC legacy is going to be comprised of all those parts so the AFTC legacy will be even greater because it has the best of all those worlds,” said Bunch.
Just as the AFFTC met the Air Force’s need for more structure, the AFTC will play a critical role in meeting the needs of today’s Air Force by reducing redundancies, finding efficiencies and saving tax dollars – all while continuing AFMC’s long-time tradition of excellence and commitment to delivering war-winning capabilities.