10 June 2016 --
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio
-- When preparing to buy a product, it is common for the purchaser to seek an official statement or indication that something has been assessed by a recognized authority. Most of us look online for a recognized independent ratings assessment when buying a new washing machine or a car. Seeking a seal of approval from the highest authority possible makes for smart business acumen. It is also a primary driver behind the Air Force's latest innovative concept for supporting airworthiness assessments for Non-DoD Military Aircraft, or NDMA.
An NDMA is an aircraft designed for military use that is not commissioned, owned, or operated by the Department of Defense, is not part of the current inventory, and is not part of a foreign military sales case. Therefore, the Air Force has no legal authority to oversee the airworthiness of these aircraft, issue airworthiness certifications or flight releases for them. Airworthiness of these NDMA is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who are not traditionally responsible for certifying military aircraft. Therefore, they may have minimal expertise in many aspects of military usage or related designs (e.g., ejection seats). This leaves manufacturers of NDMA in a bit of a pickle, as potential foreign customers of these aircraft are eager to ensure the NDMA designs are airworthy, including both the civil and military aspects.
"As foreign military authorities become more aware of the value of establishing formal airworthiness programs when procuring aircraft, they may require their system procurements be predicated on aircraft having existing military airworthiness assessments" said Robert FitzHarris, NDMA Office Team Lead, "On the flip side, airworthiness assessments can provide the Air Force insight into civil technologies that we may not otherwise see. This cross-flow of information is beneficial to both participants."
Recognizing the value of independent evaluations, commercial industry requested help in obtaining airworthiness assessments from the Air Force Technical Airworthiness Authority, or TAA. The Air Force benefits from research, development and engineering experience gained in evaluating these military aircraft designs. As a result, the NDMA Office, or NDMAO, officially opened on April 4, 2016, to conduct assessments for industry on a fully reimbursable basis; no appropriated funds will be used for this service. The NDMAO is located in AFLCMC/EZSA, the Air Force Airworthiness Office here.
"The NDMAO will provide an innovative means for the Air Force to partner with industry as we provide support of their Research and Development goals while simultaneously gaining insight into the latest industry efforts," stated Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force.
Within the opening days, the NDMAO received many requests from potential industry collaborators and is currently engaged in multiple efforts, according to FitzHarris. With a desire to keep business processes simple yet legally acceptable, the NDMAO is utilizing the existing Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, process as a mechanism to establish collaborative working arrangements with industry collaborators. While the CRADA construct is not new, using CRADAs to conduct airworthiness assessments with industry is a first.
"Our biggest success, thus far, has been in setting up the core NDMA Office in a very short time," FitzHarris said. "We established a core office capability in about four weeks once we had the SECAF mission assignment memo. This was accomplished thanks to commitments from leadership in our AFLCMC functional offices. However, it was the working level folk's willingness to pitch in and get the job done, working nights and weekends that made it happen so quickly. We also owe a special thanks to Dr. Camron Gorguinpour, Director of SAF/AQ's Office of Technological Innovation, who was instrumental in helping us break down potential barriers we encountered along the way to making this office a reality."
Interested eligible participants can link with the NDMAO by requesting a participation questionnaire via the NDMAO mailbox at USAF.NDMA.Office@us.af.mil