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Who are the Coyotes?

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo -- I'm constantly amazed by the diversity of the people and missions at Whiteman Air Force Base. Active duty, Guardsmen, Reservists, civilians, contractors, Air Force, Army and Navy (who would have thought of that in Missouri?) all performing great service to a grateful nation. Apache helicopters, A-10 'Hogs, T-38's, of course the B-2, the mobile, inshore, undersea warfare guys (again, who would of thought of that in Missouri?) and a host of folks working an unbelievable number of jobs across the base to take care of people and make the mission happen. Somehow a Royal Air Force officer even managed to sneak into the mix (Killers, we're glad you're here, if for no other reason than to hear you talk on the radio).

I'm honored to ride herd on a small part of that diversity, the 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, the Coyotes. "Aren't they the guys who give the PME tests or is that the PT test guys," you ask? "Not quite," I say. It's all part of how new equipment gets to the warfighter.

It all starts when some guy somewhere says "we need a widget" -- in our case let's say a smart weapon that will fly itself to a preprogrammed set of coordinates with no effort from the operator once the weapon leaves the aircraft and it needs to have pinpoint accuracy so we only hit what we mean to and nothing else. The guy writes a requirement for the smart weapon and gets some budget dollars set aside by the Headquarters Air Force or some other agency because we have a compelling need for such a smart weapon. A group of folks at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, works with the contractors to build a weapon that will in fact depart the aircraft and drive itself to a preprogrammed set of coordinates.

Along the way that weapon or other device, assuming of course it's part of an aircraft or the support equipment for an aircraft, will pass through the hands of two very different groups of testers. The first group is what you might think of as traditional test pilots, developmental testers or DT. Their job is to work with the engineers in the various companies and at the systems group to help refine and deliver the weapon that will solve the problem that was identified by the guy who said we need a new weapon. Once they've done their work and developed a weapon to answer the question it falls into the hands of a final group of testers -- the operational testers or OT.

That's where the 72nd TES and, their partners, Detachment 2, 53rd Test Management Group (or as we call it, the B-2 Test Team) come into play. The B-2 Test Team's job is to take the new weapon and decide whether it is operationally useful and effective. If it is deemed effective, the B-2 Test Team then makes recommendations on how best to use it and publishes what we aviators call TTP's or Tactics, Techniques and Procedures. That's essentially how the B-2 got the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, a Global Positioning System Guided weapon that will fly to a target without any input from the pilot, other than to tell it where to go before it's launched. In fact it's how we got just about every enhancement to the B-2 that's come down in the last 10 years. In the last year and a half the 72nd has flown six different aircraft software versions, and probably 15 different weapons variations.

The B-2 Test Team also frequently partners up with the developmental test world at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in some cases taking over projects for them when their schedule gets too full. It's all part of a cooperative effort that gives operational B-2 pilots and maintainers an early look at new capabilities and helps field those capabilities faster and for less money -- what we call combined DT/OT. In many cases, representatives from the 72nd will assist in planning for the long term evolution of the B-2 and participate in the development of new employment concepts and hardware.

Got a bright idea on a better way to fly and fight the B-2? How about a better way to perform a maintenance task or a smarter piece of hardware? The B-2 Test Team will help you push the idea through to flight test. That's how we ended up dropping the first ever laser guided weapons from the B-2. An aviator from the B-2 Weapons School (the 325th Weapons Squadron) came up with the concept. The B-2 Test Team helped them flesh it out and proved the concept by flying with ground teams, Predator Unmanned Aircraft and B-52's. We're now publishing instructions for the B-2 pilots to make it work. We're also constantly evaluating ways to make maintaining the B-2 a little less costly and more simple. The 509th Bomb Wing has provided a bunch of great ideas that we've been able to test and publish.

The 60 or so men and women of the B-2 Test Team include some of Whiteman's most experienced B-2 maintainers and pilots, experienced navigators and weapons systems operators from other aircraft, intelligence officers, engineers, operational analysts, computer specialists, instrumentation technicians and assorted other smart people.

Working closely with the 509th BW and the 325th Weapons Squadron, the B-2 Test Team has been a key part of the evolution of the B-2 program and the many successes the aircraft has enjoyed. We're glad to be part of the Whiteman community and appreciate the great support we get from all the agencies around the base and in the local area! And remember, if it's in the air, maintenance might have put it there and with no health, there's no stealth, but without test, forget the rest.