The day of the flight dawned clear with unlimited visibility, warm temperatures and gusty winds. Here are some images of the day plus several videos taken during the flight itself.
Pre-flight walk around with ACAT test pilot Kevin “Budman” Prosser. (AFRL/NASA)
Strapping in ready for a wild ride. (AFRL/NASA)
Airborne at last. (Guy Norris)
ACAT test aircraft, a Block 50 F-16D, taken from a NASA chase aircraft. (AFRL/NASA)
Going supersonic – shortly followed by rapid aileron roll. (Guy Norris)
Getting down to lower levels and looking for nuisance alerts. (AFRL/NASA)
Taken from the ACAT F-16 aft cockpit, in company with NASA F-18 photo chase. Note how, in the later stages of the clip, the chevron markings on the aft cockpit HUD repeater converge to indicate proximity to a potential 'fly up' situation in which the system will automatically recover the aircraft. In all, the demonstration flight covered approximately 500 nautical miles of desert and mountain terrain. (YouTube/Guy Norris)
The F-16 is being flown at extremely low level across the Cords Road practise area close to Edwards AFB. Despite the aggressive S-turns at high speed and low altitude, no nuisance 'fly-ups' were triggered by the safety system. (YouTube/Guy Norris) This portion of the Auto-GCAS flight was a prolonged terrain-masking run through a low-level route from the barren wastes of the Panamint Valley to the snowy tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Blue Low Level route encompasses some of the most rugged terrain anywhere in the world, and provides a major test of the system with precipitous peaks, knife-edge ridges and narrow, winding ravines. Initially flown in high protection mode, the F-16 was pushed into the only ‘nuisance’ fly-up of the entire flight as we hurtled up a ridge at the top of Rainbow Canyon at the northwest end of the Paramint Valley. The maneuver momentarily sent us up several hundred feet. (YouTube/Guy Norris)
Beginning with a straight run-in across Owens Lake towards the Sierra Nevada mountain range, this part of the Auto-GCAS demonstration flight took us in an instant from the arid heat of the valley to the snow and frozen lakes of the Inyo National Forest. The true robustness of the system to nuisance fly-ups was then demonstrated during a dramatic, gut-wrenching descent down the narrow, twisting Kern River valley. With ridge and mountain tops either side, and the river flashing below, Kevin Prosser flew the F-16 within the tight confines of the valley at less than 200 ft and more than 500 kts without provoking a single fly-up despite the fact the collision avoidance demonstration was flown with elevated ‘buffers’. (YouTube/Guy Norris)
With fuel running low, we returned to Edwards AFB, the demonstration having thoroughly convinced me that Auto-GCAS will save lives and aircraft without getting in anyone’s way. The landing was made on runway 4L-22R following an approach offering spectacular views of the base and Rogers Lake and its enormous runways. The longest of these - runway 17-35 - is just over 39,000-ft long! (YouTube/Guy Norris). Click here to read the flight report.