EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Since the rise in demand for commercial spectrum and faster data transfer rates for commercial wireless use, flight testers throughout the country have been working towards solutions to be able to function in line with this compatible growth.
On Nov. 13, the Federal Communications Commission conducted an Advanced Wireless Systems auction, specifically referred to as the AWS-3 auction. According to communications experts, it is reported to be one of the largest and most significant auctions of airwaves with more than 70 companies, consisting of telecommunications companies, smaller carriers, investment firms and private entities, who qualified to bid.
“The FCC is selling off government-only spectrum to facilitate the president’s broadband initiatives. This auction is the third auction in the plan to free-up government spectrum for commercial wireless use,” said Tim Chalfant, 412th Test Engineering Group instrumentation chief. “This auction will auction-off 1755-1780 megahertz, among other bands, which is one of the primary bands for aeronautical mobile telemetry used here at the 412th Test Wing.”
So what will the current auction mean for the flight test community at Edwards?
“We use [radio frequency] transmissions to display real-time data from the test article into a ground ‘mission control room,’ such as the control rooms found at Ridley Mission Control Center, to conduct test missions safely and effectively,” Chalfant said. “This auction will result in over a 10 percent cut in spectrum available for manned aircraft telemetry. Manned aircraft telemetry is currently restricted to 220 MHz in three primary bands noted as ‘L,’ ‘S,’ and ‘C’ Band. This loss of 25 MHz in L Band cuts our capacity for telemetry to support such programs as the F-35, F-22 and others that rely heavily on the L-Band.”
Although Chalfant noted that the auction would reduce spectrum for military aircraft, he said flight testers at Eglin AFB, Florida; Tyndall AFB, Fla.; Hill AFB, Utah; Nellis AFB, Nevada, and Vandenberg AFB, California, have been working together to come up with solutions to minimize the impact at the pertinent bases along with all DOD flight test organizations.
“This issue is multi-service, which includes NASA, but telemetry personnel from Edwards and Eglin have been leading the effort with the Air Force Spectrum Management Office and Department of Defense Chief Information Officer on this issue ‘historically,’” said Chalfant.
As evidence of the success of this involvement, Chalfant, from Edwards AFB, and Joseph Giangrosso, from Eglin AFB, were recently selected by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to co-chair a working group under the Commence Spectrum Management Advisor Committee.
“Edwards provided telemetry subject matter experts to the Air Force, DOD and to other government agencies as requested. The 412th TW established a Spectrum Encroachment Integrated Product Team under the Systems Engineering Board,” added Chalfant. “It consisted of representatives from the 412th TENG Instrumentation and Range and the 412th Communications Squadron. This IPT is also aligned as part of a larger Air Force Test Center Spectrum Encroachment IPT with the 96th Test Wing. This IPT has been working with the Air Force Spectrum Management Office and the DOD CIO for the last 15 years on these issues.”
In light of these auctions, Chalfant did however note that proceeds from the auction would be used by the 412th Test Wing to mitigate the impact on Edwards test operations from the loss of these bands.
“Our team has done an awesome job, the work of Mr. Ronald Pozmantier, Mr. Robert Selbrede, Mr. Kenneth Temple, and Mr. James Littlefield from Edwards and Mr. Giangrosso, Mr. Nathan King, and Mr. Ronald Higdon from Eglin has been amazing. A lot of effort with little recognition; the true un-sung soldiers of this spectrum auction,” added Chalfant.
Chalfant noted contingency plans are already in progress in preparation for the future AWS-4 auction.