An infrared search and tracking pod, known as the Legion Pod, hit two major milestones at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, July 8 and 13, espectively. The first milestone came July 8 when an F-15C Eagle fired an AIM-9X missile using the pod. The second milestone came five days later when an F-16 Fighting Falcon flew its first-ever operational flight carrying the new system. The Legion Pod is a potential game changer for air-to-air capabilities for the Air Force and the effort was a true example of total force integration at work with the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron Airmen playing a critical role in the success of these missions.
The testing process for the Legion Pod is managed by the Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force, a unique unit that reports to both Air Combat Command through the 53rd Wing and Air Force Material Command through the 96th Test Wing. Both test sorties were executed by the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron in the 53rd Wing. Use of the Legion Pod and its IRST capabilities allows a pilot to have another sensor that integrates with the aircraft and builds a more complete picture of the battlespace. Because of its use of infrared, it provides the ability to identify, track, and shoot enemy aircraft in a RADAR jamming environment to include stealth aircraft that a traditional radar may not see.
Lt. Col. Jonathan O’Rear, 84th TES F-15C test director, was integral to the integration and fielding of the Legion Pod on the F-15C resulting in the successful AIM-9X and Lt. Col. Jeremy Castor, 84th TES Advanced Pods test director for the OFP-CTF was the primary pilot and manager of the program.
“Air Force Reserve test personnel provide the long-term continuity, expertise, and relationships essential for Developmental and Operational flight test. The men and women of the 84th TES continue to push the bounds of Developmental and Operational Test and Evaluation, advancing USAF and DoD (Department of Defense) objectives in leaps and bounds across the multi-domain warfighting spectrum,” said Lt. Col. Zachary Probst, Commander, 84th TES.
The OFP-CTF is known for its ability to significantly reduce the test timeline by integrating developmental and operational test from start to finish, requirements to fielding. This approach allows operational flight programs, and the hardware that integrates with them, like the Legion Pod, to be expeditiously fielded to the Combat Air Forces. The F-16 Legion Pod integration leveraged the previous achievements on the F-15C which reduced the test timeline on the F-16 from four years to only six months and saved the Air Force over $1 million in software design and integration costs, effectively “Bringing the Future Faster.”