Taking a look at the top of this week's Inside the Air Force:
Air Force Research Laboratory officials say the series of X-51 Waverider hypersonic test flights conducted between 2010 and 2013 represent the "high-water mark" for high-speed airframe and scramjet propulsion development because they validated many core science and technology efforts and set the trajectory for ongoing technology maturation.
The X-51 program was a collaboration between the Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and a Boeing-led industry team. The program performed four flight tests; two succeeded and two failed.
The most notable flight occurred last May when an X-51 flew at hypersonic speeds for more than three minutes using a scramjet propulsion system. The tests occurred over a Naval sea range in the Pacific Ocean and test data was gathered by nearby ground stations and P-3 Orion maritime-surveillance aircraft.
"X-51 was a high-water mark in a long string of research and development," Glenn Liston told Inside the Air Force on Aug. 14. Liston heads the AFRL aerospace systems directorate's new high-speed experimentation branch at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, TN.
The Air Force this week announced 82 F-16Ds remain grounded after structural cracks were discovered between the front and rear pilot seats.
The problem was brought to light in late July by a foreign F-16 customer who discovered the cracks while performing an unrelated inspection, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy told Inside the Air Force in an Aug. 21 email. On Aug. 1, the service issued an immediate action time compliance technical order (TCTO) to inspect all F-16D aircraft. At that time, all of the service's 157 F-16Ds were grounded as the service conducted inspections. Unaffected aircraft, 75 in total, returned to flight between Aug. 3 and 15 as they were cleared.
"No cracked USAF aircraft have been released for flight," Cassidy said. "Aircraft that have passed the immediate action TCTO with no evidence of cracks have been returned to operational status."
The Air Force announced the grounding in an Aug. 19 press release in which Lt. Col. Steve Grotjohn, deputy chief of the weapon system division of the F-16 systems program office, noted that structural cracks often develop on an aircraft as a result of years of heavy use.
Money for more Army helicopters:
Lawmakers have approved the Army's request to reprogram $111 million to pay for 21 additional LUH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters for the service's training fleet at Ft. Rucker, AL, according to multiple sources.
A person familiar with the Lakota program said all four congressional defense committees approved the multimillion-dollar effort from the fiscal year 2014 omnibus reprogramming request, which was signed by Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord on July 10. Army budget documents obtained by InsideDefense.com also confirmed the decision.
The 21 additional Lakotas will help the Army move forward with its planned aviation restructure initiative. Under the initiative, the service wants to retire all of its TH-67 training helicopters and replace them with 200 Lakotas. The Army also plans to retire all of its OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and use AH-64 Apaches and Shadow unmanned aircraft for armed reconnaissance. To achieve this, the service would move all of the Army National Guard's Apaches into the active component and the Guard would receive 111 L-model Black Hawks in return.
Inside the Air Force takes a look at the next-gen GPS schedule:
Raytheon, the prime contractor for the Air Force's next-generation Global Positioning System ground control segment anticipates delivering the first of three software blocks in November of 2015, almost a year later than originally planned, under new schedule thresholds the company and the service established this summer.
After experiencing several delays due to overlapping development schedules of some complicated software, the Air Force and Raytheon signed off on a new schedule in June, the company's GPS OCX program manager Matthew Gilligan told Inside the Air Force in an interview this week.
Gilligan did not provide the full outlook of the new schedule, but he said that delivery of Block 0, which includes foundational information assurance capabilities and a launch and checkout system that will support the first GPS III launch, is now expected in November of 2015 rather December 2014 as previously scheduled. Block 1, which will replace the existing GPS command-and-control system and will field the capability to control legacy GPS satellites, was originally slated for delivery by October of 2017. Under the new schedule, Raytheon is looking at a May 2018 delivery time line for Block 1.
Looking into a foreign sale of note:
A pending deal with Saudi Arabia for an estimated $2 billion in E-3 Sentry command-and-control aircraft upgrades could help the United States recoup costs associated with the development of the Block 40/45 mission computing system, the head of the Air Force's international airborne early warning and control office said this week.
The Air Force has already spent nearly $1.7 billion on the Block 40/45 Airborne Warning and Control System modernization and expects to spend an additional $1 billion across the balance of the program, according to the Pentagon's latest Selected Acquisition Report, published in April.
The new configuration replaces the old Block 30/35 mission computing systems with faster and more modern computing equipment and displays, greatly improving the aircraft's surveillance, target-indication and battle-management capabilities. The United States and Saudi fleets, like many others, are based on a common Boeing 707 airframe.
More Air Force news:
With a $176 million beddown cost, Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska was not the least expensive of the service's basing options for the first F-35A wing in the Pacific area of responsibility, an Air Force spokeswoman said this week, but its proximity to key training infrastructure made it the most strategic choice.
The Air Force is moving forward with its plans to transition advanced engine technology research into a program of record, announcing this week plans to issue a formal request for proposals by the end of the year for a program aimed at maturing existing technologies by designing, developing, fabricating and testing an adaptive engine that could be installed into a combat aircraft.
The chief of Air Combat Command's exercises and joint operations branch said this week his office is getting behind the Air Force's return to full-spectrum combat readiness after focusing for years on other priorities, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Northrop Grumman executives say a recent $241 million contract for three unmanned RQ-4B aircraft will preserve the Global Hawk production line until the Navy ramps up procurement of its maritime derivative, the MQ-4C Triton.