Though much of the workforce has been impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing, the 412th Test Wing’s flight test squadrons are working through the challenges to accomplish their missions.
The 452nd Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., has worked through the challenges of teleworking and modified work schedules to keep their fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawks flying and meeting mission requirements.
“The 452nd is also the combined test force for the Global Vigilance CTF,” said Maj. Marc Nichols, 452nd FLTS Assistant Director of Operations. “Here, we’re involved with testing systems and avionics upgrades. We also engage in foreign military sales testing; we hope to deliver an aircraft to the Republic of Korea this week.”
The Global Hawk is a remotely-piloted, high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft. With a wingspan of over 130 feet, the aircraft is able attain a flight ceiling of 60,000 feet. The Global Hawk’s main mission is to provide intelligence, communications, surveillance and reconnaissance using a multitude of sensors to combatant commands world-wide, Nichols added.
During the recent Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the 452nd FLTS devised plans to ensure their team members were as safe as possible yet still be able to complete their test missions. The 452nd’s unique mission provides the unit the ability to execute missions with personnel being separate from each other said EmmaLee Shenberger, a Test Conductor and Operations Engineer with the 452nd FLTS.
“The mission set-up for the Global Hawk is unique in the sense that the 452nd has the ability to execute missions in a modular fashion,” Shenberger said. “At the 452nd we are already accustomed to executing missions in an ‘isolated’ arrangement simply because the mission personnel are not all co-located during a Global Hawk flight. With this capability the 452nd is able to execute missions with all required flight personnel participating while also maintaining the appropriate separation deemed mandatory during this pandemic.”
The Global Hawk CTF team understands the importance to keep their missions going and showed no hesitation when it came time to be flexible and adapt to recent changes, Shenberger added.
“By ‘hustling’ our personnel and preparing them for teleworking our squadron stayed competitive – we were and are still prepared for what could happen next while also continuing our contribution and work for the Warfighter,” she said. “Although with this transition there have been few growing pains, we are patient with each other, we have kept faith, and work to communicate with each other to the best of our abilities, and we trust each other. We have trust in each other knowing that we all share the same objective – and that is to support the Warfighter.”
Even though the team has faced challenges, they have already been able to execute their missions, ensuring the Warfighter and allied nations are able to utilize systems and equipment such as the Global Hawk.
“It’s definitely been a challenge; we were poised for to start executing with as much telework as possible when we first realized it was becoming a threat to the Southern California area,” Nichols said. “We moved people into a telework posture, but we’re able to maintain our mission set so we were able to launch this (Global Hawk) aircraft last week and complete the testing that was required before we were going to send it back to Beale Air Force Base.”
During that time, the team was also able to complete testing on a separate program which is under engineering review.
“We were all ready to proceed with what needed to happen in order to keep as few people in the office, and as much social distancing as required while at the same time executing the missions with as much mitigation as possible.
Other added safety measures included sanitation procedures between pilots and sensor operators when handing off control of the aircraft at the Mission Control Element.
Nichols said that Edwards AFB leadership has been outstanding in terms of being able to help the squadron accomplish their mission while keeping their people safe.
“They said people are the priority, test is still very important obviously, but all the way down from Air Force Materiel Command and Air Force Test Center level leadership to the Wing and down to the squadron commanders; they’ve given the commanders leeway to make their decisions with the posture of keep everybody safe but keep getting the mission done,” Nichols said. “The adversaries are out there, it’s not just the virus, but people are going to be watching to see how the 412th Test Wing executes in the midst of all this, I think we’ll have them on their back foot.”
During these uncertain times, the 412th Test Wing stands ready to keep executing its mission to provide robust testing environments for systems that will directly impact the Warfighter.
“It makes us feel good, it’s nice that we’re able to keep on doing the mission,” Nichols said. “COVID-19 is a complex situation that we’re all trying to deal with and I’m just happy knowing that our adversaries know that we’re still out there competing with them.”