An Analytical Study of T-38 Drag Reduction in Tight Formation Flight
AIR FORCE INST OF TECH WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB OH SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING AND MANAGEMENT
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This thesis explores the benefits of flying in a tight formation, mimicking the natural behavior of migratory birds such as geese. The first phase of the research was to determine an optimal position for the wingman of a tight formation flight of T-38 Talon aircraft using the HASC95 vortex lattice code. A second wingman was then added to determine the benefit derived by increasing formation size. The second wingman was predicted to derive an even greater induced drag benefit than the first wingman for T-38s operating at Mach 0.54 at a 10,000-foot altitude. The predicted values were 17.5 savings for the second wingman versus 15 for the first wingman. The flight test phase flew two and three-ship formations to validate the computational work. The results of the two-ship flight tests showed with 80 confidence that the wingman saved fuel in the predicted optimal position 86 wingspan lateral spacing. This position yielded actual fuel savings of 8.8 5.0 versus the predicted 15. The other lateral positions did not show a statistically significant fuel savings. The flight test team felt that the three-ship formation data was inconclusive due to the difficulty of trying to fly a stable position as the third aircraft in the formation without station-keeping ability.