The USAF has looked towards the civil sector to fill the gaps in the demand for chase planes which assist with testing new aircraft. The 412th Operations Groups at Edwards AFB is using civilian Alpha Jets, alongside its fleet of F-16s.
A chase plane has several functions including providing safety support by giving visual feedback, serving as a flying target, as well as taking videos and pictures to document the test. The Alpha Jets have been contracted through two companies, Modern Technology Solutions, and Gauntlet Aerospace.
Christopher Klug, 412th Operations Group technical director said: “The demand for test support, mostly safety chase and flying as a target, exceeds F-16 capacity. While the Alpha Jet isn’t as capable as the F-16, it can service the part of the test support mission that doesn’t require the higher-end capabilities of the F-16.”
Mr Klug said the aircraft are well suited to handle shorter length support missions at around 30,000ft at speeds less than 0.8 Mach. So far, the Alpha Jets have supported test missions with F-16s, F-15s, F-22s, B-1Bs and F-35s; as with all testing, data will be analysed, and leaders will decide whether the Alpha Jets can be used as permanent fixtures in future tests.
Photo caption: A Gauntlet Aerospace Alpha Jet flies above the Mojave Desert, the aircraft is being used as a chase aircraft on test missions from Edwards AFB. USAF/Ethan Wagner