The Air Force Test Pilot School’s modified F-16, known as VISTA, joined with a KC-135 tanker in the skies over Edwards AFB, Calif., earlier this month. The goal of this exercise was to explore the dynamics of refueling an unmanned aircraft in flight. Using this F-16, which is capable of replicating the flight characteristics of many aircraft, the school’s Basic Envelope Air Refueling Control Laws program is working to map “software flight-control laws required for [a remotely piloted aircraft] to go up and come in contact with a tanker,” explained student test pilot Capt. Gary Beisner, BEAR CLAW project manager. Flown by student test pilots, VISTA recently made four flights, mimicking an unmanned platform. During one, on March 17, the F-16 successfully connected to the tanker’s refueling boom. After data analysis is complete, the flight testing will expand in nature, possibly including flying VISTA remotely. (Edwards report by Kenji Thuloweit)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.