The Navy will begin testing manned airplanes on its Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) at a New Jersey test site in February and will complete testing on all type/model/series in the months after the new carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is delivered, Navy officials said on Thursday.
A 2013 hardware redesign on the General Atomics AAG has proven successful after more than 1,000 traps with dead load weights, Rear Adm. Donald Gaddis, Program Executive Officer for Tactical Aircraft, told reporters after a Senate hearing Thursday.
“We feel confident we can deliver hardware to the ship without having to go back and redesign or remove and replace anything we’ve delivered to the ship,” he said, noting that the ship is moving on with its test schedule as AAG continues land-based testing.
The remaining concerns with AAG all deal with software – particularly, whether the system can detect and help correct planes that land off-center on the carrier flight deck. The “divergent trajectory” issue is important because if a plane veers more than 20 feet off the centerline on the flight deck it would risk hitting people or equipment.
The software work currently taking place is “making sure that if the airplane doesn’t land on centerline – in other words, it’s off center 10 feet, 15 feet or as much as 20 feet – that the airplane stays inside that foul line. And that requires the software that the AAG system that’s on the right hand of the ship and the left-hand side of the ship know what’s happening to the wire as its paying out on the flight deck. So that requires a lot of software, requires a lot of test-analyze-fix on the software as well,” Gaddis said.
“At this point in the program, that is a very very low risk of anything happening in terms of concurrency to the hardware that we’ve already delivered to the ship,” he said, adding he was confident that software-only testing and fixing would address the divergent trajectory issue.
Once that software work is complete, Gaddis must then test each type of aircraft on AAG at the land-based Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division – Lakehurst, N.J. before the planes can go to the ship for at-sea AAG tests.
Gaddis said he would begin with the Super Hornets in February and will issue an Aircraft Recovery Bulletin in the summer once testing is complete.
“The plan right now is to do these recovery bulletins in incremental steps,” he said.
“We’ll start with the Super Hornet E/F, then we’ll go to the F-18C and then we’ll go to the E2 [Hawkeye] and C-2 [Greyhound]. And our plan is to do all those type/model/series and get all those recovery bulletins done before we hand it over to [the director of operational test and evaluation.”
Though all the bulletins will be issued by the time Ford reaches operational test, only the Super Hornet will be allowed on the flight deck when the ship delivers. Rear Adm. Tom Moore, Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers, said after the hearing that that wouldn’t cause any delays, as he just needs any planes to train the ship’s crew and certify the flight deck.
“Even though I only have one aircraft once I deliver the ship, the ship doesn’t care – the catapults and arresting gear are agnostic to what type of planes land on them,” he said.
“What I need from the shipbuilding side of the house is, I need to be able to take the ship out and exercise the flight deck, exercise [Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System] and AAG and have a crew start training to move aircraft on the flight deck. It’s a brand new flight deck, brand new pit stop refueling. So it doesn’t matter to me how many different type/model/series, I just need planes for launching and recovering during the six-month period between delivery and before I take it in for the post-shakedown availability.”
Moore also addressed a delay in the ship’s final at-sea trials before delivery. On Sept. 22 Moore announced that sea trials could be pushed back six to eight weeks due to a “deterioration” in progress on shipboard testing ahead of sea trials.
After the hearing, Moore said there are 246 systems on the ship that have to be tested, some of which are being turned on now for the first time.
“We took a look at the volume of work, the pace of testing. The test program on the ship is the first time that we have had the opportunity to exercise and test equipment that was in many cases designed 20 years ago,” he said.
“So as we’ve gone and energized this equipment for the first time, the pace of that testing has not proceeded at the pace we had expected it to be, so it’s taken us a little bit longer.”
After concluding he would not be ready for sea trials at the current shipboard testing pace, he considered the possibility of spending more money to accelerate the pace of preparations.
“My assessment was throwing additional resources at the schedule would probably cost a lot more money and may not in fact buy me back the schedule, so I went to [Navy acquisition chief Sean] Stackley and said, sir, the prudent thing to do is to move the sea trials out six to eight weeks – we have not changed the delivery date yet – and then give ourselves in that six to eight weeks, give ourselves the opportunity at the pace we’re at right now to finish the testing on the ship.”
Moore said there are more than 4,000 tests to conduct on the ship and the crew is making good progress. The Navy is 68 percent done with hull, mechanical and electrical systems tests, 42 percent done with electronics tests and 78 percent done with the propulsion plant.