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Software upgrades on the way for many F-16s

Jan. 2, 2013 - 08:26AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 2, 2013 - 08:26AM  |  
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It's time for a software upgrade to the Air Force's Block 40 and Block 50 F-16s, and for the first time, the two flying tech support teams are stationed at the same base.

It also marks the first time that the software is made in-house in the Air Force.

Previous versions were developed by the lead civilian contractor, with the developmental and operational tests occurring at separate bases.

Here's what's important about the F-16's system upgrade:

What is the software? The operational flight program is the software in the Block 40 and Block 50 Vipers that controls all avionics and weapons for the jet. Earlier versions were created by Lockheed Martin, but this iteration is all Air Force, created by the 309th Software Maintenance Group at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

The players. The combined test team comprises two units at Eglin, the 40th Flight Test Squadron and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron. The 40th will do developmental testing of the system, with the 85th handling operational testing. Developmental and operational testing of an operational flight program has never occurred at the same base.

"This not only gives [developmental test] and [operational test] pilots the unique opportunity for daily face-to-face contact to discuss potential test issues, but also allows OT pilots to participate in DT missions alongside their counterparts," Beau Booth, the F-16 M7 operational flight program project specialist for the 40th, said in a release.

Benefits. Being at the same base, and even in the same building, enables the squadrons to share resources and provide pilots more of an opportunity to troubleshoot the system, 85th TES commander Lt. Col. Thomas Seymour said.

"This allows us to share aircraft, infrastructure, aircrew and ideas, which results in a more effective and efficient test and a better end product for the war fighter," he said in a release.

When? Testing for the two variants of the F-16 is set to begin in 2014. It is currently in the early design-try-out phase at Eglin. The phase flight-tests early versions of the software to let engineers make early changes before full testing begins, according to the Air Force. The combined test team has flown 41 sorties so far.

The new system is scheduled to be installed in all active-duty F-16s, along with many Reserve jets, according to the Air Force. The Air Force flies 1,013 of the jets.

F-15E testing award. The announcement coincides with more operational flight project news for Eglin. In mid-December, the Operational Flight Program Combined Task Force at the base was awarded the Ferguson Award for Engineering, praising the test force's work in developing the F-15 modernization system Suite 7E, which included software for the AIM-120D missile on the Eagle.

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