AEDC Flight Systems Branch provides data critical to weapon systems development

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Ashley Dement, an electrical technician lead, works on a rake used to characterize the flow of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex 16-foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel, March 24, 2020, at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. (Air Force photograph by Jill Pickett)
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The Flight Systems Branch, or TSTW, within the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Test Operations Division, provides aerodynamic ground-test capabilities vital to the advancement of U.S. military weapons systems.

Bringing together the efforts of personnel across multiple branches, TSTW operates six wind tunnels at subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic speeds to deliver decision-quality information to U.S. Government, U.S. industry and international partners.

“We are at the leading edge of testing and evaluating weapon systems critical to our force modernization and meeting the needs of the National Defense Strategy,” said Lt. Col. John McShane, chief of the Flight Systems Branch.

The nozzle walls of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex 16-foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel frames Todd Robison Jr., an outside machinist, while he works on a rake used to characterize flows March 24, 2020, at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. (Air Force photograph by Jill Pickett)

“Because international strategic competition is now the primary concern of U.S. national security, the development of a more lethal force is required; TSTW does precisely this. We provide decision-quality information on tactical and strategic weapon systems for asymmetric advantage against a peer adversary.”

TSTW is comprised of the Store Separation Section and the Aerodynamic Effects Section.

The Store Separation Section conducts testing using a Captive Trajectory Support system to study the behavior of objects, such as bombs or spent rocket engine stages, as they depart from a flight vehicle.

“This capability can reduce weapon development lifecycles and help validate existing computational data,” said Rich Roberts, chief of the TSTW Store Separation Section. “It continues to become more critical as the shapes and behavior of weapons change and are needed quicker in the field for use.”

The testing simulates a variety of conditions, including different altitudes, speeds and flight maneuvers. Data gathered in the wind tunnels assists in determining a subset of conditions during which it is deemed safe to release a store, before it is attempted in flight testing.

Workers remove a pitch table from a test cart, March 16, 2020, in the Model Installation Building at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. (Air Force photograph by Jill Pickett)

“This information is critical for Program Offices because of the safety risks that are inherent anytime something is released from a vehicle in flight,” Roberts said.

The quality of data generated during testing by the Store Separation Section is improved by using the 16-foot transonic wind tunnel, the largest tunnel in the U.S. capable of running store separation tests. The utilization of larger models yields more realistic separation data, by minimizing scalability issues with data.

The Aerodynamic Effects Section conducts a variety of wind tunnel tests, including stability and control, jet effects, force and moment, and carriage loads in simulated subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic flight environments, on aircraft, missiles and space systems.

“Our group is an integral part of development and evaluation testing for major defense acquisition programs in support of the National Defense Strategy,” said Melissa Minter, chief of the TSTW Aerodynamic Effects Section. “We have supported almost every major Department of Defense and government flight vehicle program of the past 65 years and are doing our part to build a more lethal joint force for the future.”

Testing and analysis by the Aerodynamic Effects Section allows program offices to validate the systems tested, expand the envelope of operations and reduce risk prior to flight testing.

“The sections of TSTW provide timely, cost-effective, decision-quality information that is vital to the development and modernization of our force,” McShane said. “The data we collect today will serve to field the force of the future.”
 

A piece of equipment, called a rake, shown here March, 12, 2020, outfitted with instrumentation will be used by engineers to characterize the air flow in the 16-foot supersonic wind tunnel in the Propulsion Wind Tunnel Facility at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., as part of the effort to return the test cell to service. (Air Force photograph by Jill Pickett)

 
The stilling chamber before the nozzle of the 16-foot supersonic wind tunnel in the Propulsion Wind Tunnel Facility at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., shown here March 12, 2020, allows the air to go from a turbulent to a smoother flow. (Air Force photograph by Jill Pickett)

 
Tunnel C in the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., shown here March 12, 2020, is used for aerodynamic testing at speeds of Mach 4 and Mach 10. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

 
 
 

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