Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas (MDC) have begun flight-tests of competing reconnaissance versions of their respective F-16 and F-15 fighters. Both companies have dusted off existing reconnaissance pods, flight-tested in the 1980s, to meet a perceived gap in the US Air Force's manned-reconnaissance capability caused by retirement of the MDC RF-4C.

A conformal centreline pod was flown for the first time on MDC's F-15D technology-demonstrator on 19 April. Between six and eight test flights are planned. Lockheed Martin has equipped an F-16A with a centreline pod for a three-month evaluation by the US Air National Guard. The first flight was on 26 April.

The F-15's 7m-long pod has been equipped with a Loral Fairchild Systems medium-altitude electro-optical (MAEO) sensor, digital tape-recorder and reconnaissance-management system for the latest series of flights. All three items were developed for the cancelled Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS). MDC is installing the ATARS sensors in a reconnaissance version of the F-18 for the US Marine Corps.

Sensor images being recorded are displayed to the pilot, with the capability to replay previously recorded imagery. A TEAC video-recorder records pilot voice and cockpit video for flight-test correlation. Some 45min of sensor imagery were recorded on the 1.6h first flight and the ability to rewind and review the video while airborne was demonstrated.

The F-16's pod houses a Recon/Optical KS-87 camera converted into an electro-optical sensor using a framing focal-plane array, and a digital tape-recorder. There is no real-time datalink or cockpit display for the current evaluation, aimed at demonstrating a low-cost, low-risk reconnaissance capability, Lockheed Martin says.

Source: Flight International