Six C-17As from the 418th FLTS and other units sit on
the ramp at Edwards AFB in preparation for a formation
Photo: USAF / Mike Cassidy
3/25/2009 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA -- The Global Reach
Combined Test Force concluded a colossal mission of performing
a formation test with six C-17 Globemaster IIIs March 14 and
As the newest, most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the airlift
fleet, the C-17 is capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops
and cargo to main operating bases or directly to forward bases
in deployed environments.
The aircraft is equipped with a formation flight system that
enables the pilot to monitor and fly the aircraft in formation
with other C-17s.
"The C-17 has a basic mission requirement to be able to
fly large-scale formation, both in the clear and through the
clouds," said Lt. Col. James Hanley, 418th Flight Test
Squadron commander. "The purpose is to be able to deliver
a sizeable Army force of both personnel and their equipment
into a hostile environment very rapidly."
Initially, the formation flight system was tested at Edwards
in the summer of 2008, afterward it was tested at Pope Air Force
Base, N.C., in four-ship formation.
"While we were there, we discovered several system deficiencies
that caused us not to recommend the system for the next phase
of operational testing," Colonel Hanley said.
One of these deficiencies included electronic interference
on the formation flight system's ability to "see"
"We didn't know the source," the colonel said. "Both
the Systems Group, Program Office and Boeing engineers have
been analyzing the test for the last six months. They needed
some more data on what was causing these issues. They asked
the Global Reach CTF to perform six-ship testing to gather data
and hopefully, resolve these issues. The thought-process was
the more aircraft there are in the formation, the more demand
you are putting on the system and the more chances you will
be able to see these deficiencies. "
Through the formation testing, the Global Reach CTF was trying
to figure out the root cause of the system deficiencies.
"For a test of this scale, there is a lot of planning
involved," said Colonel Hanley. "The specific formation
geometries for the test and what airplane needs to be in what
position require a very detailed plan in both how we are going
to taxi and take off with six C-17s."
The test team performed a planning process, including forming
a test and safety plan and programmatic scheduling for the aircraft.
Six C-17As from the 418th FLTS and other units taxi out
to takeoff at Edwards AFB for a formation flight test.
Photo: USAF / Mike Cassidy
"Imagine driving a big rig truck that is 10 miles long;
you have to think about what you are going to do before you
do it," said Maj. Mark Jones Jr., 418th FLTS experimental
test pilot. "When we were performing the test, we had 10
miles long formation. It takes a lot of forethought and planning
to figure out how we are going to fly and how we are going to
move the airplanes around in different formation geometries."
Part of the testing also included simulating airdrops and finding
out what happens when the aircraft formation goes through a
"There were also a couple of challenges in dealing with
six C-17s," Major Jones said. "It is not like the
Thunderbirds where they take off right next to each other. When
C-17 aircraft take off, they start to get stretched out. We
also have to plan our route of flight, speed and climb schedule
to make it easy for the last aircraft to catch up with the formation."
During testing, the pilots used the formation flight system
to communicate with each other using their Global Positioning
System and Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems. The pilots monitored
each aircraft system to ensure they were working correctly.
"The lead pilot was responsible for sending information
electronically, through the system, to other C-17s so that the
whole formation knows what's going on," Major Jones said.
"Our mission was to collect data. Test engineers wanted
to see when the system malfunctioned. They wanted to find out
when other aircraft systems interfered with the operation of
the formation flight system."
According to Major Jones, the system will provide a substantial
increase in capability once it becomes operational.
"The formation flight system is head and shoulders above
the C-17's legacy formation system, which is called Station
Keeping Equipment," the major said. "If we get it
up and running, it is going to streamline how we do formation
and increase our capabilities. It will make flying in formation
easier for the pilots, thereby increasing airdrops and supplies
Colonel Hanley said various organizations were critical in
completing the C-17 formation flight system testing. The 412th
Operations Support Squadron provided the ramp space for the
six aircraft as well as coordinated the taxi plan. The testers
used the temporary runway to prevent clogging the main taxi
The 412th Maintenance Group provided maintenance support, while
the 412th Test Management Group and 412th Operations Group gave
approval on the test and safety plans. In addition, Air Mobility
Command loaned four aircraft and crew as well as maintenance
support personnel for the test.
"Without great teamwork, we couldn't have done it,"
Colonel Hanley said. "This is overall a phenomenal effort
from the whole team. We were able to fly all these aircraft
on time and get the data we needed in two missions. The professionalism
of the aircrew is remarkable. It was an overall incredible effort,
and I was proud to be part of it."
Source: USAF Press Release by Senior Airman Julius Delos