Busting Bad Beacons

The Air Force is replacing thousands of personnel locating beacons after a series of reported malfunctions over the last three years, according to an Air Force release. Officials at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, conducted a series of rigorous tests on the URT-44 PRB, intended to put the system through the most extreme scenarios possible. “They had a 100 percent failure rate,” said Col. Aaron Clark, the global power programs directorate deputy director for USAF acquisitions. The current URT-44 PRB was introduced three years ago to comply with the new digital standards that make crashes easier to find. Since then, its real world performance has decayed sharply to the point that “right now, we are seeing an observed reliability of about 55 percent” in actual ejections, said Clark. Because of the failed accelerated lifecycle test results at Wright-Patt, the Air Force will replace the first 3,900 beacons by 2015, at an estimated cost of $15 million. USAF will then begin replacing beacons fleet-wide for an additional cost of some $40 million, according to the release. The beacons are typically used only in peacetime operations because they generate a signal, according to the release.