WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has completed its portion of data assessments related to the service’s light attack aircraft experiment, and plans to submit a final report on its findings to senior leadership by mid-September, the laboratory’s executive director said Tuesday.

The report will include data findings on over 500 test points related to sustainability, maintenance and available infrastructure that the service can then use to determine the feasibility of procuring an off-the-shelf aircraft for close air support and light attack missions in permissive environments at a low cost, Jack Blackhurst told Defense Daily in an interview in AFRL’s office on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Two Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos fly over Kabul in 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Two Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos fly over Kabul in 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“We’re expecting to have that in mid-September to send up to the headquarters,” he said. The data will also be provided to Air Force centers including the service’s Lifecycle Management Center and Air Combat Command to begin conversations of how a potential new aircraft would fit into their respective mission areas, he added.

“That’s what the purpose of the experiment was, to get people … thinking and give them some data so they can make some decisions,” Blackhurst said. “It’s the whole nine yards.”

The service launched the light attack experiment in 2017, analyzing four off-the-shelf aircraft for their ability to carry various payloads, sensors capabilities and other factors. In early 2018, the contenders were pared down to two aircraft – Sierra Nevada and Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano and Textron Aviation’s AT-6 Wolverine – which underwent a variety of flight tests as well as data studies to focus more on how they could be sustained within the fleet.

Meanwhile, the Air Force planned to host various international allies Friday at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, to showcase the two aircraft on static displays and provide subject matter experts. The service announced Tuesday that the event would be canceled in anticipation of any weather complications stemming from Hurricane Florence, which is making its way toward the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions.

The Sept. 14 date was already a reschedule from the initial date in mid-July, which was postponed following a tragic accident during test flights in June that left one Navy pilot dead and another co-pilot injured. The service is currently evaluating whether to attempt to schedule a distinguished visitor (DV) day for foreign allies for the third time at a later date, Air Force spokesperson Capt. Hope Cronin told Defense Daily.

Blackhurst noted that the goal of the visit was to provide awareness of the effort to potentially interested allies. Five foreign partners were in attendance at the Air Force’s first DV day in 2017 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; this year, 28 countries were scheduled to attend the event at Andrews, he added.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has worked over the past year to engage international partners on the effort, he noted. “He would like our foreign allies to purchase light attack airplanes to fly with us, because right now they can’t afford F-16 kinds of airplanes,” he said. “This was an opportunity … to expose them to what we did, what we evaluated and to actually get them to see the airplanes.”

A draft request for proposals released in August via FedBizOpps stated an intent to solicit proposals for a light attack turboprop aircraft, with a focus on the A-29 and the AT-6. A final RFP could be released by December, and the service could reach a decision by the end of 2020, service leaders have previously said.