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.
On my previous visit to Tucson, I saw the Rolls Royce owned Boeing 747 engine testbed. This was converted for the Boeing 787 Trent engine development program (hence the registration N787RR). The Number Two engine was removed and replaced with the test engine. The other three Rolls RB211s are unchanged. At various times the testbed has been reported to be without an engine in the test location but there was something there when I was last here – it’s just they didn’t fly. This time was different.
I saw the testbed when I left the airport after my flight landed. The following morning, I headed out to see what F-16 traffic there was and saw online that a flight plan had been filed for the testbed. I only had a certain amount of time before I was due to be at Hawgsmoke but it was supposed to fly long before that. Of course, test flying is not usually something that happens to a tight schedule and the takeoff time came and went. We were beginning to think we might miss it when the sound of some large engines spooling up reached us. A while later, out she came.
Engine testbeds require some careful control. Since one engine is significantly different in thrust from the others, there is a balancing act required to keep the thrust differential within the ability of the control surfaces to overcome. That means the max thrust is not always going to be used. Consequently, they use a good portion of the runway for takeoff rotating just passed our location. That meant I didn’t get the front quarter rotation shot I had in mind.
No matter, I still got to see it fly. The return was about six hours later and I was busy elsewhere at that time. I figured that was it for this trip. I was wrong. The morning of my departure, I had a little time to spare so went back to see what was happening. Amazingly, the testbed was already being crewed as I drove up. We got a repeat of the previous day and some similar shots. I guess I was compensating for not seeing it fly last time!
Every once in a while I am looking for things to include in the blog from previous photographic outings. I was discussing an aircraft with an unusual radar installation which will now show up in an upcoming blog post as well. However, it triggered another thought about some radar testbed aircraft that I used to see quite regularly. For a number of years I was working in Washington DC on a regular basis and I would fly in to BWI airport. Aside from being a popular hub for Southwest, it is also the home of a Northrop Grumman radar plant.
They have a hangar on site which not only deals with their corporate aircraft but also their testbeds for the airborne radar programs. This hangar is located along a tree lined taxiway so everything is pretty obscured from view (unless you are airborne when you can see in a lot more clearly). The two testbeds that I saw quite frequently were a Sabreliner business jet and a BAC 1-11 airliner. The 1-11 was a regular sight when I was a lot younger but now they are almost all gone. Therefore, this was the one I was always pleased to see.
Sadly, I often saw them when I was without a camera or the camera was away. No electronics below 10,000’ in those days. However, I did catch them occasionally so these shots are a reminder of what was there. I suspect that the 1-11 is no longer in use. I imagine it was becoming a pain to maintain but I don’t know for sure whether it still is around. If you know, please do tell me.