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Friday, January 15th, 2021

Sandia National Laboratories virtual methods aid B61-12 flight test

© Lockheed Martin
Photo from a previous flight.

Air Force officials recently commended the role Sandia National Laboratories played in providing virtual means that aided a critical B61-12 Life Extension Program test flight aboard the F-35A Lightning II jet fighter.

Under the National Nuclear Security Administration’s guidance, the test was executed, accompanied by a Sandia National Laboratories-developed non-weaponized Compatibility Test Unit simulating a weapon’s functionality before release – capturing data for later analysis without being dropped from the plane.

The Edwards Air Force Base flight test occurred in April and needed to validate software and firmware changes in preparation for future development and flight tests.

“Given the travel limits at the beginning of the pandemic, we had to come up with nontraditional, out-of-the-box ways to fulfill our mission,” Sandia Manager Dan Brown said. “We were able to come up with a way to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 to the health and wellbeing of our team and others involved in the test. With the virtual setup, there was less of an opportunity for anybody to get sick and a greater opportunity for success.”

Sandia engineers’ virtual training enabled the Edwards team to prepare and validate the safety and readiness for flight of the Sandia’s B61-12 test unit.

“We virtually walked the team at Edwards through how to power on the data recorder in the Compatibility Test Unit and then how to download the data and send it to Sandia for analysis,” he said. “We were able to show them how our specific hardware worked. Successfully completing the flight test shows how we were able to balance the health and safety needs of team members with meeting the needs of our nuclear deterrence mission, in this case by keeping the F-35 program moving forward.”