by SrA Daniel Liddicoet
49th Wing Public Affairs
1/22/2015 - HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Remotely
tucked away in the high desert of southern New Mexico, the 96th Test
Group at Holloman AFB provides some of the most sophisticated military
testing in the world. Often, their innovations and technological
pursuits can conjure images seen in science fiction films or novels. The
group's latest project, dubbed affectionately as 'R2D2', is no
According to 2nd Lt. Troy Biersack, program manager with the 746th Test
Squadron, explained that the project began from a need to design a
platform that could serve to perform high-dynamic testing of new GPS
technology inside the 56 year-old T-38 Talon.
The culmination of efforts across the 96th TG led to the creation of a
rear cockpit mounted electronics package reminiscent of the beloved Star
"The similarities between our RCP and R2D2 would be that it's in the
rear seat and it's got this funny little cap on the top which functions
as an antenna," Biersack described. "We started jokingly referring to it
as R2D2 as the project developed, and it just stuck."
Building the RCP required careful coordination between the 746th Test
Squadron, 846th Test Squadron and the 586th Flight Test Squadron.
The 746th Test Squadron performed program management, test management,
integration of equipment and ground test data analysis. The 846th Test
Squadron added by managing the mechanical design and fabrication.
Finally, the 586th Flight Test Squadron led the flight certification
process and coordinated the installation and removal of the RCP.
"It is a point of collective pride that the squadrons each possess such
unique capabilities, yet they work so well together," said Biersack.
"Our leadership is promoting innovation and cohesion. This dynamic
exists across the squadrons, enabling us to quickly identify and
leverage the correct talent."
Biersack served as the program manager for the RCP project, overseeing
each phase of development between squadrons to ensure the process was
"My charge was to maintain program vector and momentum while standing
clear of the experts. I was responsible for budget, for keeping it on
track and holding people accountable to getting things done on time."
After the 746th Test Squadron developed the requirements to construct
the RCP, the 846th Test Squadron began working on the mechanical design
and fabrication of the rack.
As Biersack explained, one of the unique challenges of the project was
designing a rack that could fit inside the aging T-38 without negatively
affecting the pre-existing conditions of the aircraft.
"When the fabricated rack arrived from the 846th, for us it was one of
the biggest moments of the entire project," beamed Biersack. "It was
such a great feeling to see how far we'd come, and to bear the fruits of
our labor in such a tangible way."
Once fabricated, the RCP then had to undergo a series of ground testing and safety reviews before it could become airborne.
According to 1st Lt. Jeffrey Son, test manager at the 746th Test
Squadron, explained that one of the challenges of this phase was testing
for the aggressive vibration profile necessary to ensure the RCP could
undergo the rigors of high dynamic testing.
"As a test manager, it's very neat to be a part of test execution. I
feel a lot of the time that I'm just along for the ride. The folks here
at the squadron are experts at what they do and need very little
guidance to make tests successful. It's been an honor to be a part of
The 746th had to perform a safety review to guarantee that the RCP would bring no new hazards to the T-38.
Erin Morgenstern, unit test safety manager at the 746th Test Squadron,
explained that their biggest priority was to ensure that installing the
rack would not interfere with the aircraft's ejection system.
"The pilots had to change their ejection settings in order for the gas
lines to cooperate with the RCP, we had to make sure there were no
hazards to the aircrew upon ejection and that the equipment stayed with
plane also so there could be no mid-air collisions."
Finally, once the equipment had been checked out, the RCP was sent to
the 586th Flight Test Squadron so it could be flown in the T-38 for
initial flight testing.
"The moment it all came to together, the big kumbaya," recalled
Biersack, "was the eight sorties that were flown by the 586th went off
without a hitch. Seeing the data from our analysts showing that this
rack is just as good as the rack we're replacing it with."
As it all came together, the members of the RCP project could see their
own little piece of science-fiction forming before their eyes.
"In order to accomplish something like this, you've got to chip away at
it bit by bit, piece by piece," said Biersack. "And sometimes it's
amazing to just look back, pick your head up from the grind and see
everything that's been accomplished."