On Thursday, 28 August 2014 at El Paso International Airport, El Paso, TX, AMERICAN SYSTEMS met a major milestone in the delivery of a fully functional autopilot on NASA's T-38 aircraft. NASA pilots successfully completed the first T-38 autopilot flight test. The autopilot is a cutting-edge system that will improve the aircraft operational safety and enable the aircraft to fly at higher altitudes. Onsite to support and witness the event were AMERICAN SYSTEMS Program Manager and Senior Engineer Anthony Beamon, System Architect Omeed Alaverdi, and Lead Systems and Software Engineer Mark Jones, as well as their Director Cari Smiley and General Manager Jason Frye. Prior to the first flight, the AMERICAN SYSTEMS team pre-briefed the pilots on the 60 flight test cards to be executed during the test. The flight test included scenarios that would rigorously evaluate the autopilot system's functionality, safety, and software logic. At 16:22 local time, T-38 aircraft tail number N902 took off on the historic first flight. The weather was 88 degrees and sunny with winds out of the south at 10 knots with some approaching thunderstorms. The flight lasted 1 hour and 14 minutes and the pilot, Bob "Farmer" Hines and NASA's T-38 Project Manager and Engineer, Paul Haugen, both openly stated that the "first flight exceeded their expectations."
The T-38, a training aircraft utilized by NASA to train it's astronauts, has never had an autopilot and therefore the FAA wouldn't allow flight above FL280 (28,000 ft.) - the airspace known as Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM). At RVSM altitudes, the FAA stacks airplanes vertically close together because of the high volume of airline traffic and an autopilot is required. The T-38 was designed to fly at those higher altitudes and operates at a higher fuel efficiency which will result in significant cost savings to NASA. Director of NASA's Aircraft Operations Division (AOD), Richard Clark stated, "We are reaching the culmination of a 10-year development project and should feel justifiably proud that our diligence is paying off. Bravo Zulu to all concerned!"
The AMERICAN SYSTEMS T-38 team, consisting of Anthony Beamon, Omeed Alaverdi, Mark Jones, Dennis Linse, Jonathan Franz, Abraham Nehemias, Stephen Day, and Gerard Schwalbe, took over the program 2 years ago and have been supporting the design, development, integration, installation, and testing under a NASA sole-source IDIQ contract. Cari Smiley added, "This was a remarkable event and I couldn't be any prouder of the dedication and hard work that went into making this program a success."