How may 2009 be remembered?
It could live as the year when finally the US Air Force and the Secretary of Defense adopted a unified airpower theory and then backed it up with funding. (Pause) ... Nah.
More likely, but still improbable, it could be the year when the aerospace novelty acts of the past decade -- ie, unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs), high-altitude airships and airborne directed energy systems -- prove whether or not they're here to stay.
Indeed, the Northrop Grumman X-47B, Lockheed Martin HAA and Boeing Airborne Laser (ABL) and Airborne Tactical Laser (ATL) are each preparing for pivotal and potentially ground breaking years.
The Akron-based HAA is due for a first flight in the third quarter (or summer, to Northern Hemisphere folks). Senator Tom Coburn earlier this month derided HAA as one of the government's most excessive wastes of taxpayer money, but there's no doubt that interest in such high-altitude, stationary platforms runs high among DOD's civilian leadership.
In the late 3rd quarter/early fourth quarter timeframe, the Missile Defense Agency will find out if the $5 billion investment in the 747 ABL has produced a system capable of shooting down a ballistic missile -- at least in a demonstration. Meanwhile, the C-130-mounted ATL will begin a three-year user demonstration with special operations forces.
Finally, and perhaps most momentously, the X-47B should achieve first flight in the fourth quarter. If the unmanned combat air system-demonstration program succeeds, it could have a revolutionary impact on the future of military aircraft technology.
Here's my list for the most significant scheduled events for next year.
F-22 - Re-certification by March 1
HC/MC-130 Recap - RFP release
STUAS/Tier II - RFP ??
EA-18G - SDD complete. FRP decision.
C-17 - 190th airplane delivery
HAA - 1st flight
Mobility Requirements Study complete?
P-8A - First flight
Airborne Laser - Intercept Test
X-47B First Flight
[UPDATE: I forgot a big one! Full STOVL-mode F-35B flight tests start in June!)