AEDC facing cuts to meet sequester

The demand for testing at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex is expected to reach historic levels in many facilities during 2019 and continue into the foreseeable future and U.S. Air Force leadership is noticing the work the base does.

Increases are projected in areas of testing that include hypersonics, turbines, arc heaters, wind tunnels, rockets and the climatic lab, just to name a few. Some areas will double and others will triple the amount of testing conducted.

“Everyone thinks back to the space race of the 60s,” AEDC Test Operations Division Chief Col. Keith Roessig said. “Arnold had a huge role in everything that went on back then and in some ways, we’re in a similar role today.”

Rockets: Right now AEDC tests two rocket motors every year to examine aging.

“In three to four years, we’ll be ramping up to test about 20 motors a year in support of modernization programs,” Roessig said. “We expect there will be follow up testing for surveillance of these new motors as well.”

Hypersonic:  Roessig said hypersonics will drive much of the workload now and in the future. Some program offices will test in multiple AEDC facilities as well as at other bases in Air Force Materiel Command.

“When we talk about hypersonics, we’re not talking about a single facility or even a single site. In addition to Arnold Air Force Base, it is Tunnel 9, Holloman (AFB) and Edwards (AFB) all tied together to make everything work the way it should. Tunnel 9 has increased workload planned for the next few years. The von Kármán tunnels are busy examining aerodynamic data that complements the rain field erosion testing at the High Speed Test Track at Holloman. The Air Force Test Center designated the Hypersonics CTF at AEDC as the Executing Test Organization for all AFTC hypersonics test and the personnel within the HCTF are busy coordinating the efforts between all these locations.” 

The J-5 facility, formerly used for rocket motor testing, is being upgraded during the next several years and will eventually join the hypersonics test effort at AEDC.

Turbines: AEDC’s two largest turbine test cells now have two military projects running which is something that hasn’t happened in more than a decade. There will be 500 hours of testing on the engines.

Arc Heaters and Wind Tunnels: This year’s goal is to quadruple the workload- the goal was to accomplish 100 tests and projections estimate the site will complete between 80 and 90. However, the request for FY20 is more than 170 tests and the requirement is going to be almost 200 tests a year for the next four-plus years, according to Roessig.

A facility returning to service after being in mothball status for 19 years is the Supersonic Wind Tunnel, 16S. But this will be a new and improved 16S. When all of the funded upgrades are completed, the tunnel will be able to reach Mach 5.

The current operational tunnels in the Flight Systems CTF have a total test request of approximately 7,000 hours. The goal is to accomplish 5,000 hours. 

Space Chambers and STAT: AEDC Space and Missiles is involved in discussions with Air Force Space Command about new capabilities and the new organization at AFSPC for test and evaluation. While Roessig can’t yet predict how much work this would bring to AEDC, he said the chambers and the Space Threat Assessment Testbed are receiving lots of attention from the Air Force Test Center as well as other government organizations.

Taking care of our people: There are ongoing hiring efforts within the government and with several of the AEDC contractors. Once hired, training becomes the next concern. A Human Capital Plan is being developed by AEDC Vice Director, Wayne Ayer, to address issues like compensation, progression and experience levels for the government workforce.

Even with the increase in testing, AEDC will still have maintenance periods to complete routine items as well as system upgrades under the Service Life Extension Program. Roessig says the timeframes may shift a little, but there’s no getting around the need to adequately maintain the aging infrastructure. The ETF plant summer outage was delayed one month to accomplish some critical engine testing already months behind due to plant mechanical issues.