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News Letter 9 August 2018

Happy Woman's Day

The winter seems to be having a last gasp attempt to keep things cool and in the process is messing with the flying over most of the country with low cloud around.

Saturday will be a busy time in the North-West province with a Fly-in organised in both Brits and Rustenburg.

Refilwe Ledwaba woman on the move.

Refilwe grew up as one of seven siblings in a single-parent household in Limpopo. She thought she’d become a doctor, one of the classic means of escape. Gifted and hardworking enough to pursue such a demanding career, Ledwaba was content with the idea. Until she got on an aeroplane flown by a black female pilot. And realised that medicine wasn’t her dream at all.

At the time Ledwaba was studying towards a BSc at UCT, with the hope of transitioning to healthcare. But as the aircraft left the ground that day, her medical ambitions shrunk away with the receding landscape, replaced by a passion entirely her own – flight. Sometimes one moment can change the course of a life. That’s what that take-off did for Ledwaba. She approached businesses to sponsor her training, refusing to be intimidated by aviation school fees. A pilot who offered her free flying lessons was an important aid, but it was the South African Police Service that came to her help financially. Upon completing her probationary air time, she became the first black woman to earn an Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence for helicopters in South Africa and joined the force as its first black operational helicopter pilot. After ten years of service, she moved on to attain her fixed wing qualification and has been flying for SA Express since 2014.

In making her dream a reality and signing her name in history, she has already achieved so much. But it wouldn’t be enough for her until she’d made a meaningful difference in the lives of others searching for a way into the industry she loves. Her own journey to success was challenged by more than monetary concerns. The lack of female role models in flight proved a major hurdle. So in 2009 Rafilwe started the South Africa Women in Aviation and Aerospace NPO, to provide mentor-ship and financial support for women hoping to find their wings. And while helping others, she hasn’t neglected her personal growth – Rafilwe completed her MBA. With the attitude of a champion, there’s no doubt that she will continue to climb higher.

Boeing converts F-16 fighter jet into an unmanned drone

Boeing has announced that it has retrofitted a number of retired Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets with equipment enabling them to be flown remotely without a pilot. In conjunction with the US Air Force, the company recently flew one of these unmanned jets, performing combat maneuvers and a perfect centre line landing.

The converted F-16, one of many that had been "mothballed" for 15 years at a site in Arizona, was controlled remotely by two US Air Force pilots located at a ground control facility. During the test flight, the plane cruised at 40,000 ft (12,200 m) and reached speeds of Mach 1.47. It then performed a series of maneuvers, including barrel rolls and a "split S" (where the pilot rolls his aircraft upside down and flies a descending half-loop, achieving level flight in the opposite direction at a lower altitude).

The unmanned jet took off from a base in Florida and flew to the Gulf of Mexico, and was trailed at all times by two chase planes monitoring its course. "It flew great, everything worked great, it made a beautiful landing – probably one of the best landings I've ever seen," said the project's chief engineer Paul Cejas. Should the need have arisen however, the F-16 was equipped with a ground-operated self-destruct mechanism.

One of the major advantages of not having a pilot on-board a jet fighter, is the ability to stress the plane to higher limits without fear of losing human life. During this flight however, the aircraft was only tested at 7Gs of acceleration even though an unmanned, fly-by-wire F-16 should be quite capable of performing maneuvers at 9Gs.

Boeing and the US Air Force revealed that the converted F-16s, re-designated as QF-16s, would be used in the training of pilots, providing drones for target practice and live fire tests. "Now we have a mission capable, highly sustainable full scale aerial target to take us into the future," Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, Commander, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, is quoted as saying in a Boeing press release.

The US Air Force has been using jet fighters as target drones since the mid-1970s. Most recently, Phantom F-4s (QF-4) have been re-fitted for this purpose, however the number of F-4 airframes that are capable of being converted without excessive rework is declining. More importantly, the QF-4’s ability to represent the performance of a modern day fighter has decreased over the years. The QF-16 is its newly-designated replacement.


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