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Airborne Armament Equipment (AAE)

Aircraft bombs, torpedoes, mines, and other stores are suspended internally or externally from the aircraft by bomb racks, which carry, arm and release stores. Airborne Armament Equipment (AAE) is made up of items that support the expending or release of ordnance from aircraft such as Bomb Racks and Launchers. It is important to note that AAE does not actually include the ordnance itself.

The majority of military aerial vehicles, such as combat aircraft, attack helicopters and the like, are typically equipped with an external airborne stores suspension, delivery and release system. External airborne stores are devices intended for external carriage, mounted on aircraft suspension and release equipment and may or may not be intended to be separated in flight from the aerial vehicle. External airborne stores typically include missiles, rockets, bombs, nuclear weapons, mines, torpedoes, detachable fuel and spray tanks, chaff and flare dispensers, refueling pods, gun pods, electronic countermeasure (ECM) pods, electronic support measure (ESM) pods, towable target and decoy pods, thrust augmentation pods and suspension equipment, such as racks, eject launchers, drop launchers and pylons. The external stores are detachably installed on the aerial vehicle via specific suspension points, typically referred to as hard points or weapon stations, which are distributed across the external surface of the aerial vehicle in such a manner as to provide for the best possible performance of the stores carried and for the aerodynamically most advantageous flight conditions.

For economical efficiency, as well of for organizational and operational reasons, most military aerial vehicles are designed as multi-role platforms. Consequently modern military aircraft are provided with functional versatility, such as the capability of conducting a variety of missions, including offensive counterair (OCA), defensive counterair (DCA), interception (AA), combat air patrol (CAP), close air support (CAS), suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), deep strike, anti-shipping (AS), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), electronic warfare (EW), refueling, reconnaissance, surveillance, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) launching, satellite launching or the combination of two or more of the above. Each specific mission profile requires weapon pairing or the assignment of optimal weaponry for the given mission. Weapon pairing involves the delivery of a particular load of a particular store or a specific mix of different store types and loads. The wide range of mission profiles required from modern military aerial vehicle necessitates the option of carrying a variety of stores and loads.

Bomb racks are aircraft armament equipment items which provide for the suspension, carriage, and release of ordnance items from the aircraft. Most bomb racks are installed semipermanently on an aircraft and are referred to as parent racks. Bomb racks are generally classified as ejection or free-fall. A free-fall bomb rack allows the ordnance item to fall from the rack when all the requirements of the launch sequence have been satisfied, while release from an ejector type bomb rack is accomplished by the firing of a cartridge actuated device which then ejects the item or items.

Ejector racks serve the same purpose as bomb racks but differ in that they use electrically fired impulse cartridges to eject the weapon/stores free of the bomb rack. High speed fighter and attack aircraft can create a vacuum under the fuselage and wings. This vacuum can prevent the weapon/store from entering the airstream and falling to the target. If this happens, the weapon/store may physically contact the aircraft structure, causing serious damage to or loss of the aircraft. Bomb ejector racks eject the weapon/store free of the bomb racks with sufficient force to overcome vacuum buildup and ensure a safe weapon/store launching environment.

Guided missile launchers provide for the carriage and release of guided missiles from an aircraft. They provide the mechanical and electrical interface between the aircraft and the air launched missile. Guided missile launchers are categorized as either ejection type or rail launchers. Ejection type launchers utilize gas pressure generated by cartridges fired in the launcher breeches to physically separate the missile fromthe aircraft. The missile motor is then ignited at a predetermined distance below the aircraft. Rail launchers are normally carried on the wing stations. Rail launchers enable the missile motor to be activated while the missile is still attached to the launcher. After motor fire, the thrust generated by the motor overcomes the missile restraining device and the missile separates from the the aircraft. The tube launcher is a variant of the rail launcher. Tube type launchers contain the missile in launcher tubes until the missile motor is ignited. The missile then fires from the tube in a manner similar to firing aircraft-mounted rockets.

Modern multi-role aircraft are provided with weapon stations to accommodate a variety of stores required for the conduct of many different missions. Although the number of the available stations differs among different types of aircraft typically eight to twelve stations are provided. As payload space is at premium in a combat aircraft or in an attack helicopter, the location of the stations is typically limited to the external, lower surface of the aerial platform. Due to increased aerodynamic drag effects the external location of weapon stations carrying stores inevitably involves flight performance penalties, such as reduced maneuverability, airspeed, range, effective operational ceiling, increased fuel consumption and the like. Typical external weapon station locations include wing tip hard points, outer wing hard points, middle wing hard points, inner wing hard points, side fuselage hard points, fuselage center line hard points, and the like. Although each hard point allows for a limited set of options for the uploading of stores the overall stores configuration can be mixed or matched in accordance with the type of aircraft. An allowed combination of stores and loads in the framework of a single sortie is typically referred to as the external stores configuration. It is important to note that typically all stores on a particular hard point must be of the same type for a given configuration.

Thus, for example, an exemplary stores configuration could include medium-range missiles on the wing tip hard points, rocket pods on the outer wing hard points, bombs on he middle wing hard points, ECM pods on the inner wing hard points, short-range missiles on the side fuselage hard points, and external fuel tanks on the fuselage center line hard points. Although, the various types of stores deliverable and releasable by a single aerial platform is quite large, the number of possible stores configurations is substantially limited both by the number of weapon stations and by permissible weapon station loading options.

Typically, a military aircraft performing a long-range sortie or a mission involving an extended operational activity period, is equipped with auxiliary external fuel tanks, which are commonly secured to pylons suspended on specific hard points. Due to considerations concerning aerodynamic efficiency and the associated flight performance parameters the external fuel tanks are designed to have a suitable structural configuration, such as the characteristic torpedo shape. Typically external fuel tanks are manufactured in diverse sizes that allow for a wide range of fuel store capacities ranging from 67 to 1,360 US gallons per tank unit. External fuel tanks are usually the largest external payload carried by an aerial vehicle. The number of external drop fuel tanks carried by an aerial vehicle differs according to the vehicle type and the variants thereof, but typically one to five external fuel tanks are supported where two or four tanks are carried under the wings and one or two tanks are installed under the fuselage.

The delivery of aerial vehicles to a user (e.g. an Air Force) where the vehicle has the capacity of carrying external stores, such as weapon stores or fuel stores, inherently includes the provision of the optional external configurations where the carriage of the stores and the associated operation parameters were designed, tested and certified by the manufacturer prior to the operational fielding of the aerial vehicle. As a result, the aerodynamic and operational characteristics of a typical external fuel tank are optimal within the certified external configurations and in association with the aerial vehicle. The typical fuel tank characteristics include high capacity carriage, substantially flexible center of gravity limits and ranges, acceptable flutter, high load limits, positive dynamic separation and emergency release effects, known aerodynamic effects on the aircraft stability and maneuvering, known aerodynamic effects on the adjacent external stores and the like.

Note should be taken that certain external store types, such as multiple unit weapons, cluster bombs, ECM, ESM, and the like, are not provided with an optimal aerodynamic shape. Therefore, such weapon stores are aerodynamically unstable, produce increased drag and negative dynamic separation and release effects.

Strategic and tactical demands in concert with the ever-accelerating pace of technological progress motivate a continuous program of improvements in the operational capacity of military aerial vehicles. Although the development of a completely new aerial platform is an extremely long and highly expensive process, substantial enhancement to the capabilities of an existing platform can be accomplished by progressive development and new operational implementation of new/upgraded stores involving the introduction of new/upgraded external stores configurations. Since a typical combat aerial vehicle in service today is already operating at the edge of its flight characteristics envelope the addition of external payloads with a high drag index has a negative impact on the flight performance characteristics, such as increased turn radius and fuel consumption, reduced climb rate, maneuverability, turn rate, airspeed, operational range, effective operational ceiling, and the like. Based on these physics of flight it is can be readily assumed that a new/upgraded stores configuration will have some negative impact on the flight characteristics of the platform, in order to avoid potential damage to the high-value aerial vehicle and to the crew manning the aircraft it is imperative that each and every new/upgraded store configuration will be submitted to a series of comprehensive ground-based and in-flight tests in order to evaluate the aerial vehicle stores compatibility of any given configuration. The new/upgraded configuration is certified and approved for operational use only after the suitably collected test data proves the safe operability of the configuration.

The tests must evaluate the flight characteristics of an aerial vehicle resulting from the implementation of a new/upgraded stores configuration. The behavior of the platform in association with the tested stores configuration must be systematically evaluated by performing ground-based tests (engineering analysis, computer simulation, wind tunnel testing) and subsequent flight tests to be executed under a variety of flight conditions. The tests address such vital issues as safe stores carriage, safe stores release, safe carriage of combined stores, safe release of combined stores, emergency release, dynamic release and separation effects, weapon delivery accuracy, ballistic accuracy, limitations in the center of gravity range and margins, additional load effects, flutter, drag, aerodynamic stability and balance, size of radar and infrared signatures, and the like. Data collected during flight tests is in regard with the behavior and the performance of the platform in the variety of cases from a full loaded store configuration up to an asymmetric configuration resulting from partial store release, from unintended store release, and the like. If in any of the testing stages the results indicate unacceptable flight envelope deterioration or unacceptable functioning of the stores, then suitable structural modifications will be made on the stores, in the stores configuration or even in the aircraft frame and the tests are repeatedly performed. At the completion of the testing process, in accordance with the test data collected, the new/upgraded stores configuration is either certified, that is approved for operations by an appropriate certification board or is rejected as unsuitable for operations until further changes are made. It would be easily understood that the entire ground-based tests, flight tests and certification procedure loop is a highly complex, substantially cumbersome, and time-consuming process that involves very high expenses and very high risks.

Currently a new generation of advanced, powerful, miniaturized munitions is being developed and introduced. The utilization of these advanced weapon types, such as small smart bombs, and the like, is highly advantageous in terms of increased accuracy, reduced volume and weight and superior effectiveness. One disadvantage of the miniaturized munitions relates to the associated carrier means, such as unique miniaturized munitions-specific pods that are used as unique containers for the new weapons. The unique miniaturized munitions-specific pods have a limited payload capacity, aerodynamic inefficiency, high drag and negative dynamic release and separation characteristics. An additional drawback of the miniaturized munitions pertains to the fact that a particular weapon station is capable of supporting only one particular type of store for a specific mission. Thus, by necessity, a single miniaturized munitions-specific pod typically occupies an entire available weapon station, which is capable of supporting much higher loads. Due to the limited number of the weapon stations and the significantly reduced weight of the miniaturized munitions, the implementation of a stores configuration containing miniaturized munitions may result in the potential dissipation of the stores suspension potential and payload capacity potential of an aerial vehicle that was typically designed to support much higher loads.

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