November 11th, 2020, marks the start of a new era in the IAF Flight Testing Center (FTC) Squadron - for the first time in 14 years, a first of its kind fighter jet equipped with advanced experimenting capabilities will land at the squadron.
The arriving Adir F-35I, designated for flight experiments, will greatly enrich the IAF's independence in improving its division of fifth generation aircraft. What makes the jet so unique and how will IAF pilots stretch the limits and capabilities of one of the most advanced aircraft in the world?
"With the new addition of the 'Adir' to the lines of experimental aircraft in the Israeli Air Force's FTC Squadron, we are witnessing a historic event, the magnitude of which cannot be underestimated - a meaningful corner stone in the IAF's inauguration and development of the F-35 division", said Brig. Gen. Oded Cohen, Commander of Tel-Nof AFB. "To the FTC Squadron personnel - the absorption of the 'Adir' poses new challenges. I have no doubt that by virtue of your skill and professional spirit you will know, as you have proven in the past, how to challenge the limits of the 'Adir's' capabilities, and lead the IAF through toward new horizons".
Blue and White Munitions
One of the extraordinary aspects of the IAF is its use of Israeli operating systems and munitions on its various flight platforms. In the majority of the acquisitions made in cooperation with the United States, the IAF is given the opportunity to install its own electronic warfare, communications and weapons systems - all to accommodate the platforms to the relevant operational needs and requirements.
For the F-35I, the situation is more complicated: "In the 'Adir' program, the IAF doesn't have access to everything, and cannot fully intervene", described Lt. Col. Y, Commander of the FTC Squadron.
"The 'Adir' division is set to play a central role in the IAF's future operational activity", Lt. Col. Y. continued. "Therefore, we understand the need to test it and adapt its weapons systems to the operational reality in the field. The experimental F-35I will act as the main building block for acquiring new flight capabilities, and allow for independent installation of munitions".
"New weapons affect the aircraft in different ways. We run an entire series of tests to certify a capability, such as load testing, fluttering, and release fluency," he added. "In load testing, we examine the durability of the weapon and aircraft while performing complex maneuvers. In flutter testing, we check for aerodynamic phenomenon that may endanger the jet. While testing release fluency, we scan for issues in the release process of munitions - a significant test for the 'Adir' since its payload is released from an internal hold in the jet's body. After the testing process is completed, we are able to determine the guidelines for operating with the new capability".
What grants the squadron personnel the ability to examine, receive data and dissect it to draw conclusions that will benefit the IAF? In addition to the flight and technical departments, the FTC Squadron has a systems department.
The squadron's aircraft are equipped with systems that collect the data that is later used to examine the test outcomes. The systems department focuses on collecting and dissecting the data from the aircraft systems, including delivering the information in real-time to the squadron on the ground, where the test is closely monitored.
"The purpose of the systems is to provide data that the aircraft cannot display on its own, thus allowing for an effective de-brief and learning experience", said Maj. Manny, Commander of the Systems Department. Most of the systems are installed during the production of the jet, and the Systems Department can add additional ones according to the kind of test. "While planning for the acquisition of the experimental F-35I, the IAF began to establish the kind of testing that would be held. Accordingly, appropriate systems were assimilated during production".
In the near future, concurrent with the integration of the aircraft, American teams from Lockheed Martin will arrive at the squadron to deliver system instructions to its personnel. "The 'Adir' speaks a different language, one that we must connect with and learn to understand," mentioned Maj. Manny and Lt. Col. Y added: "The IAF knows how to operate the "Adir", but does not yet know how to operate an experimental model. We need to receive the relevant knowledge in order to operate the aircraft and fly it prior to the testing process".
A New Home
Since the IAF's decision to integrate "Adir" aircraft, the squadron and Tel Nof AFB has changed quite dramatically. "The changes relate to several aspects", explains Maj. A, the squadron's Technical Officer who recently completed his role. "The first is infrastructure. There were two options as to where the aircraft will be held and maintained - the FTC Squadron and Nevatim AFB. When our squadron was chosen, our personnel began building the suitable infrastructure. The squadron's flight line underwent a substantial overhaul and was converted to accommodate 5th generation aircraft".
Without the necessary work force, the squadron cannot maintain and operate the aircraft to the best of its ability. "The entire squadron strengthened considerably", continued Maj. A. "There's need for professionals - F-35-certified pilots, test engineers, equipment specialists, and technicians". Lt. Col. Y. added: "In the past year, two operational F-35I pilots joined the Flight Testing Center and are currently training to become test pilots".
The FTC's flight line operates all of the IAF's fighter jets and the technical department must maintain them regularly and thoroughly. "The 5th generation aircraft differs from the rest of the FTC's aircraft", emphasized Maj. A. "Consequently, all of the 'Adir' technical staff underwent a series of designated F-35I training in order to maximize their independence prior to the jet's arrival. The 'Adir' integration adds a layer of complexity to the department's routine since F-35I maintenance is different as well. The arrival of the aircraft constitutes a significant milestone for both the squadron and the technical department".
Custom-Made Fighter Jet
Why exactly is this experimental F-35I model the first of its kind in the world? "To date, the only experimental F-35 models manufactured were aeromechanical testing aircraft of limited operational ability or testing models meant to examine specific systems. The arriving 'Adir' model has advanced aeromechanical testing capabilities and full operational capabilities. Similar to other equipped testing aircraft in the FTC, we could, if necessary, convert the model to an operational one".
"The test 'Adir' model is the first-ever to be manufactured in the United States, per our request. Now, they will likely produce additional aircraft based on the current model for themselves", detailed Lt. Col. Y. "As soon as we're fully prepared, we will be able to advance the 'Adir' Division and its capabilities".