B-52 continues “mothership” role during hypersonic test

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In a scene reminiscent of the old days of a B-52 mothership carrying an X-15 underneath a wing, the 419th Flight Test Squadron successfully conducted the first flight test of the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., June 12.

Much like the historic “Balls 8” B-52, a current generation of the historic aircraft is once again contributing to the base’s test mission, this time in the realm of hypersonic weapons.

“Hypersonic weapons are defined as assets which are capable of traveling more than five times the speed of sound,” said Master Sgt. Dustin Hoover, Superintendent, Advanced Programs, 412th Maintenance Group. “Hypersonics is a game-changing technology that amplifies many of the enduring attributes of airpower—speed, range, flexibility, and precision.”

A prototype of the ARRW was attached to a B-52 to gather test data including environmental and aircraft handling characteristics. The test gathered data on drag and vibration impacts on the weapon itself and on the external carriage equipment of the aircraft. The prototype did not have explosives, instead it was outfitted with sensors and was not released from the B-52 during the flight test.

The ARRW is one of two Air Force hypersonic weapon rapid prototyping efforts. Development of these air-launched hypersonic weapon concepts shows the Air Force is staying at the forefront of this cutting edge technology and is set to reach early operational capability by fiscal year 2022.

“We’re using the rapid prototyping authorities provided by Congress to quickly bring hypersonic weapon capabilities to the warfighter,” said Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “We set out an aggressive schedule with ARRW. Getting to this flight test on time highlights the amazing work of our acquisition workforce and our partnership with Lockheed Martin and other industry partners.”

The success of the mission is attributed to many different organizations within the 412th Test Wing, the Air Force Test Center, as well as industry partners.

“This endeavor was the culmination of months of work to get both the aircraft and weapon prototype ready for loading and flight,” Hoover said, “Weapon Standardization’s involvement included working with the contractor to ensure technical data was safe for use and that personnel would not be injured and the aircraft & equipment would not be damaged.”

A B-52 from the 419th Flight Test Squadron out of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., carries a prototype of the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, for its first captive carry flight, June 12, 2019. (Air Force photograph by Christopher Okula)

New efforts such as hypersonic weapons tests are very complex. Testing hypersonics weapons requires the collaboration of multiple organizations across the 412th Test Wing and Air Force Test Center as well as with our industry partners. Future success depends on those relationships and it is exciting to be part of such a great team, said Lt. Col. Tom Meagher, 419th FLTS Commander and Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force Director.

“Hypersonics play a critical role in the next generation of strategic long-range strike capabilities for our nation to counter our adversaries and their threats,” he said. “We must test these new hypersonic weapons to ensure we field the capability and technology safely, rapidly, and effectively. The warfighter depends on the test community to deliver weapons that work when they need them to, reaching targets quicker and from longer range.”

The flight test serves as the first of many flight tests with the B-52 that will expand the test parameters and capabilities of the ARRW prototype.

“It is a privilege to be involved in the early testing of new capabilities for the warfighter. We have a great team of skilled individuals working hard to bring these weapons to the field and it is humbling to be a part of it,” said Capt. Darren Montes, 419th FLTS Hypersonics Flight Commander and B-52 Test Pilot on the ARRW first flight.

“The B-52 continues to prove itself as a critical workhorse in the development of new capabilities for the nation. By virtue of the B-52’s large external carriage capacity, it is an excellent platform for testing new vehicles and weapons, supporting the current and future needs of the operator,” Montes said. “The B-52 has a rich history of hypersonic testing, including the X-15, X-51, and many other experimental and research aircraft. This recent test and the increase in future hypersonic weapons tests continues that legacy.”