New fully digital aircraft navigation aid tested

  • Published
  • By Jasmine Porterfield
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 2 recently evaluated new, fully digitized navigation charts to streamline mission planning initiatives for the military.

This is the first major upgrade to the charts in approximately 30 years, according to Lt. Col. Robert Clark, AFOTEC Detachment 2 Air Armament Division chief.

AFOTEC completed a successful operational test on a digitized navigation chart prototype in 2016.

Subsequently, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency requested AFOTEC use their expertise to evaluate three new digitized charts for use by the Air Force and other military services.

The military uses navigation charts for mission planning and flying navigation routes. AFOTEC Det. 2 evaluated three sets of these charts: the 1:250,000 joint operations graphics-air, the 1:2 millionth jet navigation, and the 1:5 millionth global navigation and planning series.

The JOG-A series chart is used for planning and support of low altitude air operations and navigation, tactical air-to-ground operations, and support to other aircraft activities.

The JNC series provides worldwide coverage to support navigation requirements of aircraft capable of high speed, high altitude and long-range performance.

The GNC series are long range navigation graphics designed to meet the requirements of users in high speed, high and very high altitude aircraft.

Over the course of six weeks, the Det. 2 team tested the new charts at nine military installations across the U.S., including here. They met with aircrew from the Air Force, Army and Navy to evaluate chart effectiveness on 16 different airframes.

“We evaluated the new digital product for the units’ ability to mission plan and fly with them,” said Clark. “We also evaluated various aircrews’ use and their ratings of the charts.”

Aircrews use navigation charts similarly to the way drivers use dashboard GPS systems in vehicles. Previous charts were based on analogue pictures of terrain drawn in some cases nearly 50 years ago. As terrain changes occurred, digital layers reflecting variations, such runways and building additions, were added on top of the original picture.

The legacy charts also reflected city size and shape from the era of which the charts were originally created. According to Clark, the new charts are 100-percent digital, down to the terrain, reflecting up-to-date urban development.

“In addition to the complete digital format, colors and symbols were also modified to provide an easier-to-read chart,” said Clark. “Part of our evaluation includes how well these charts can be viewed in different lighting conditions and aircraft systems.”

According to Paul LaPorta, unit test director, the digitized charts will accelerate updates, allowing data to be collected from a variety of sources while mitigating clutter at a more real-time pace, as compared to their predecessors.

“These charts will tremendously help our aircrew and mission planners to continue to navigate in conditions where satellite tracking systems like GPS may be degraded,” he said.

Clark and LaPorta expect the new charts to be available for military operations as early as 2019.

Tests like this are nothing new for the detachment. The unit’s Airmen regularly execute operational testing for more than 40 Department of Defense acquisition programs. 

AFOTEC plans, executes and documents realistic and objective operational tests to determine the capabilities and limitations of Air Force and joint weapons systems.

“We are passionate about ensuring new weapon systems are fully characterized, including both strong points and weak points, so there are no surprises when the systems are taken into combat,” said Col. David Radomski, AFOTEC Det. 2 commander.

Testing emerging capabilities in real-world environments delivers vital information to acquisition program decision-makers and warfighters.

“We provide Air Force, DoD and other government agencies with the operational expertise and insight from the initial stages of a system’s development through field deployment,” said Clark. “Our overall objective is to meet warfighter mission needs.”