Over six months ago, the Honeywell Boeing 757 testbed ferried from Phoenix – its home base – to Paine Field for maintenance work at ATS. I don’t know whether there were mods to be done too but, with a jet like this, that wouldn’t seem to be a stretch. I only found out it was there when I saw it outside the ATS hangars one time. I figured this was one to watch since it would have to go home at some point.
Whether there was a ton to be done or whether COVID delayed progress, I don’t know. However, it stayed at ATS for a long time. I had an alert on it should a flight plan be filed but nothing happened. I talked to other people up there and we all wondered when it would move. Then, finally a flight plan was filed for a flight coming back to Paine Field. This was good news since it would mean taxi shots, departure and arrival. I headed up. First flight after a long layup is not likely to go smoothly and the time for departure kept slipping and slipping. Eventually, later in the day, the flight disappeared off FlightAware.
A few days later, up it popped online again. Unfortunately, this time it was a flight direct to Phoenix so redelivery. That was unfortunate. So was the fact that we were experiencing some torrential rains. However, this is a rare one so I headed up. As per the last time, the departure time slipped a bit but then it pulled on to the taxiway heading for the runway. Amazingly, the rain had abated and it looked very promising. I got out of the car and walked to the bank to get some shots. At some point, I began to feel some rain drops. Then I felt what seemed to be the stream from a fire hose. The rain came pummeling down and I was instantly soaked. At this point, I was wet so no point heading back to the car.
When they got to the hold point, they stayed around for a while. Then someone came to the door on our side and opened it. I imagine they were getting pretty wet doing this since I was. As it sat there at low power, it was still pulling a vortex into the inlet of one of the engines. Maybe there was a door open warning but they closed it again and then pulled towards the active runway. The plane is covered in graphics pointing at parts of the airframe that have Honeywell technology installed. Its most distinguishing feature, though, is the pylon mounted on the side of the front fuselage on which turboprop engines can be mounted for airborne testing. No engines are there at the moment but the pylon itself is pretty substantial. Coming towards us and then lining up, we had the pylon on our. Side. They powered up and disappeared in to the gloom as they climbed out heading home to Phoenix.
One of the things I was interested to see at Moses Lake was the new testbed being fitted out for Rolls Royce. Rolls currently has a Boeing 747-200 that they use for airborne testing of their engines. I shot it at Tucson and posted about it here. They recently acquired a 747-400 from Qantas to use as a testbed and it was moved to Moses Lake for conversion by Aerotec. I don’t know the timescales for the conversion process but it will be interesting to see it when ready in house colors and hopefully with a big engine installed on one of the inboard pylons.
I had a recent post of some shots from the USAF museum at Edwards AFB. It reminded me of my first visit to Edwards in 1990. On that trip I saw both the USAF side of things and the NASA side. The NASA hangars were great and there were lots of amazing types being used for testing purposes. I didn’t see everything I was hoping for there but it was still fantastic. One thing that really excited me was the storage lot. There were some interesting airframes parked up there. An F-8 Crusader that had been used for supercritical wing testing was there. I think that has since been taken care of and is now restored. The fly by wire testbed was also there.
There was also a weird hybrid airframe. I think it was called RSRA which stood for rotor systems research aircraft. This was a hybrid of rotor and fixed wing technologies. One of them was modified for the X-Wing program which was canceled before it could fly. Not sure which one I saw but I think it was the unmodified one. These things could have A-10/S-3 engines fitted to them for higher speed research work. Oh, to have seen one in action. This lot would have been definitely worth some time looking around if it had been possible.
I read that Cranfield is getting a new SAAB 340 to be used as a flying testbed. It is replacing the current Jetstream 31. The plane is used for test work but it is also used as a flying classroom for aeronautical engineering students. The Jetstream 31 was an old BAE Systems airframe (one I was involved with in my days at Warton) and it replaced a Jetstream 200. That old Astazou powered airframe was in use in the late 80s when I went through the course. Here are shots of that old plane when we were using it as well as the current one when it showed up at RIAT.
The Chevy Bolt is not the sort of car that would normally grab my attention. This one did though. It was at The Henry Ford (even if it is a Chevy) and it is tricked out with all sorts of sensors. I assume it was some sort of development tested for automated vehicles. I could have made the effort to go and read whatever was written next to it but that seemed far to much like hard work. I guess I am the sort of person an automated vehicle is designed for if I can’t be bothered to even do that!
I was walking around the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Tukwila after the opening ceremonies had concluded. A few things took off while I was there but nothing caught my eye. Then I heard another jet get airborne. I looked around and saw a CRJ climbing out. However, this was no normal CRJ. It was one of the Northrop Grumman radar test beds. These have replaced the BAC1-11 jets that are now all retired. I got the camera up late (settings weren’t ideal either) and shot it as it disappeared into the distance. I had no idea it was on the ground (and would have gone looking for it had I known). Oh well, win some lose some!
I have seen the Honeywell Convair at Paine Field parked up at various times but only once did I catch it flying in. This post includes shots of it which were, unfortunately, on a rather overcast day. A white airframe on a cloudy day is not a great target but its rarity meant I was still pleased to get it. It was due back in at lunchtime recently so I decided to make the quick trip up while eating my lunch. The weather had been crummy but I had seen some gaps developing in the clouds and Everett often is a little clearer than by the office. I figured it might work out.
I got there a little while before it was due in and a clear patch did briefly appear before closing in as an Ameriflight Beech 1900 landed. I looked to the distance and saw potential so waited with fingers crossed. The Convair appeared downwind and then turned on to final. It was a shady shape in a cloudy sky. Had I blown it? As the approach got close in, a burst of light appeared and the airframe jumped out from the background. I was delighted. It touched down, I packed my stuff up and I was back in the office before you knew it!
The Sabreliner is a neat little jet under normal circumstances, combining as it does the wing of the Sabre with a fuselage for passengers. This example, that now lives in the Evergreen Aerospace Museum in McMinnville Oregon, is even better because it is a testbed. The nose has a new radome grafted into place to allow the testing of different radar. Meanwhile, pods can be mounted under the wings to test a variety of different sensors and electronics. Some of these different configurations are displayed alongside the airframe. Good to know that after years of specialized service, the aircraft will survive in the indoor comfort of the museum.
The first Boeing 757 built was kept by Boeing as a test aircraft and never went to an airline. When Boeing became a partner in the F-22 Raptor program, a new use was found for the aircraft. It was fitted out as a flying testbed for the avionics suite. A test crew could ride in the cabin and they could try out a number of different configurations of software changing things as they go without having to have the software flight qualified.
To make the whole ensemble work appropriately, the aircraft was fitted with F-22 sensors. This included a radome on the aircraft nose with the F-22’s radar. In addition, because a number of sensors were embedded in the wings, a wing structure was added about the cockpit. This unusual configuration resulted in the aircraft gaining the nickname “Catfish”. It flew a lot during the development program but I only ever saw it on the ground at Boeing Field and then it was partially obscured. I did also look down on it from an airliner approaching SeaTac.
I knew it didn’t fly often but I hoped that, in moving to the area, I would finally get to see it airborne. Then I discovered that it had flown to St Louis. The rumor was that it had been retired. Indeed, on a flight across the country involving a plane change in St Louis, I did see it parked up in an open-ended hangar. I figured that might be as close as I got. Then I got a notification that it was heading west again. Better yet, it wasn’t going direct to Boeing Field but to Everett first. It is a short drive from the office to Everett and the flight plan meant it was coming in during lunch.
The harsh lunchtime light and the prospect of heat haze notwithstanding, I figured this was too good a chance to miss. It showed up pretty much when expected so I was able to get some shots of it coming down the approach and across the threshold. The heat haze was really bad as it was over the runway but actually slightly less of an issue further out. I don’t care. I finally got to see it fly and that is what I was after. It headed back to St Louis from Boeing Field the following day. I have no idea when it left Everett for Boeing Field though. If it comes back again and I can see it, that will be a bonus.
A number of different airframes have been used for airborne early warning requirements. The Boeing E-3 Sentry is the most well-known but there have been a number of other types over the years. SAAB developed a radar system that has been mounted on Embraer 145 jets, SAAB 340s and SAAB 2000s. The development of this system was started in the 1980s and a testbed was produced prior to the system appearing on a production airframe. This testbed was a Fairchild Metro turboprop. It made an appearance at the Farnborough airshow where I got some shots of it. It was camouflaged in what was then the standard Swedish camouflage scheme. This was a cool look for their planes and I do miss it.