Historically, store development and integration testing has been accomplished in conjunction with military organizations as part of a defense contract. For this reason weapons integration testing has traditionally been performed by military flight test organizations. These organizations have developed their approach to weapons testing through over 100 years of weapons testing experience in collaboration with industry companies.
In January of 2009 The Boeing Company signed a contract with the Republic of India for the direct commercial sale of the Boeing P-8I maritime aircraft, a derivative of the Boeing 737. Due to the contract being directly between Boeing and the Republic of India there was no US or customer military involvement in the flight test phase. This presented The Boeing Company the opportunity to take a fresh look and a new approach at how they performed weapons testing.
Boeing Flight Test took an approach that leveraged the best practices and lessons learned from both its military weapons testing experience and its FAA commercial aircraft certification experience. From the military side, Boeing leveraged the use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations and wind tunnel data, validated in previous Boeing programs with different store types, to derive highly accurate models of the predicted separation characteristics of the different stores that the aircraft would use. From the commercial side Boeing leveraged the philosophy of determining the critical points in the envelope by analysis and testing, in a buildup fashion, only those few critical points. Based on the correlation of these points with the CFD and wind tunnel data, the models would be adjusted to predict the behavior throughout the envelope.
This combined approach led to a very cost-effective and efficient flight test program. The critical test points were determined beforehand and were all tested in a very short period of time. During the buildup, data gathered was correlated with the analytical models rapidly to allow the aircraft to proceed to the following critical point the next day, or even the same day. The approach relied heavily on the close interaction of the flight test team and the subject-matter-experts of the various disciplines involved to optimize the order of the test points, review of the test data in support of further testing, resolving any issues with the aircraft systems, and maintain an adequate level of safety.
In the end this approach allowed Boeing to safely drop a total of 27 stores in just 5 days of testing at the Yuma Proving Grounds, including 18 weapon separation and 9 dynamic store release test conditions. Efficient test execution was achieved using this new approach. The results completely surpassed all expectations from the test team and program leadership.