USAF test pilots fly Alpha Jets out of Edwards AFB

The USAF has contracted two Alpha Jets to serve as chase aircraft during test missions.

USAF contracted Alphajet chase Edwards
USAF test pilots fly Alpha Jets out of Edwards AFB.

In early 2018, USAF looked to civilian suppliers to receive some chase aircraft. They had been requested by the 412th Operations Groups at Edwards AFB to make up for the few F-16 double-seats. The 412th OP has the role to test the new aviation platforms and the chase plane is often very important during these activities. It provides safety support by giving visual feedback, serve as a flying target, and document the test sortie through photography and video taken by an additional crewmember. As a result, USAF selected two Alpha Jets.

“The primary test support aircraft is the F-16, which is very capable,” said Christopher Klug, 412th Operations Group technical director. “The demand for test support, mostly safety chase and flying as a target, exceeds F-16 capacity. While the Alpha Jet isn’t as capable as the F-16, it can service the part of the test support mission that doesn’t require the higher-end capabilities of the F-16.”

Edwards currently has two Alpha Jets contracted through Gauntlet Aerospace to support certain test sorties as an experiment to see what they can offer.

According to Gauntlet Aerospace, the owner of the jets, the two-seat Alpha Jets were designed to be light attack and trainer aircraft in the 1970s through a partnership between French aircraft company Dassault and German company Dornier. The Alpha Jet was also designed to be launched quickly after each sortie and does not require ground-support equipment. The jets are still in military service in France, Belgium, Egypt, Portugal, Thailand, and are operated by French test pilot school EPNER and Britain’s Empire Test Pilot School, according to Gauntlet.

Klug added that Alpha Jets can be well-suited to handle shorter-length test support missions executed at around 30,000 feet and less than 0.8 Mach speed. So far, Alpha Jets have supported test missions with F-16s, F-15s, F-22s, B-1s and F-35s, he said.

The ability to capture visual data is another important role of a chase plane and the 412th OG hopes more test missions can be properly documented with lower-priority test missions getting the necessary photographic documentation needed.

“The F-16 is a much more versatile photo platform than the Alpha Jet, but there just aren't enough D-models (two-seat versions) to go around,” said Christian Turner, Media Fusion Aerial Photography manager. [U.S.A.F. Test Pilot School] is a pretty high priority when it comes to getting D-models since they're required to have instructors for most of their flights. Having access to Alpha Jets simply gives us greater access to a two-seat photo chase platform.”

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Written by Matteo Sanzani
Sources: 412th Test Wing PA, Gauntlet Aerospace
Imgaes: 412th Test Wing PA

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