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Joint Strike Fighter tests chem-bio cleanup

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFMCNS) -- Tina Slade and Jennifer 
Tanyatanaboon, microbiologists with Battelle, the lead contractor for the JSF 
decontamination project, prepare an F-16 for a biological (simulant) contamination trial. (Air Force photo by Jeffrey Youngblood)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFMCNS) -- Tina Slade and Jennifer Tanyatanaboon, microbiologists with Battelle, the lead contractor for the JSF decontamination project, prepare an F-16 for a biological (simulant) contamination trial. (Air Force photo by Jeffrey Youngblood)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFMCNS) -- Members of the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force, under direction of the JSF Program Office, are testing survivability of the F-35 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., even though aircraft is not being used.

Instead, they're testing chemical and biological decontamination processes on a recently retired Edwards' F-16 to return the JSF to service after exposure to a chemical or biological agent during combat operations.

The Joint Strike Fighter is the first U.S. fighter aircraft to have a requirement for both chemical and biological survivability.

The test effort is comprised of three internal and one external contamination trials using a simulated chemical agent and a simulated biological agent.

To perform the biological tests, a harmless spore that has the same hardiness characteristics as biological agents such as anthrax was injected in the running engine to contaminate the environmental control systems, said Mark Chace, program manager of the JSF Integrated Test Force.

"Then, the aircraft was pulled inside a portable, inflatable rubber hangar and exposed to vaporized hydrogen peroxide as the decontamination method," Mr. Chace said.

The process takes two to three days, then the vaporized hydrogen peroxide breaks down into water and oxygen.

"We have completed one of three bio trials, and we are in the third of four chem trials. The final bio trial will be a week after Thanksgiving, and the remaining chem trial will follow," Mr. Chace said.

The chemical tests parallel the biological ones in that the aircraft is sprayed with vaporized simulated chemical agent, then put inside a hangar for decontamination. But this process involves heating the aircraft rather than using vaporized hydrogen peroxide.

"The aircraft is placed inside a metal shelter, or as we refer to it, Hot Air Decon Chamber, and heated to approximately 180 degrees (farenheit) for six days. This process brings the chemical agent, in this case the simulant, down to acceptable levels so the maintenance and aircrew don't have to wear (their chemical warfare protective gear) after decon," Mr. Chace said.

The heating process is called 'accelerated weathering,' and the aircraft is closely monitored by air samples, video surveillance and temperature sensors during the entire process.

This phase of the testing began in October, and is scheduled to be complete by Dec. 20. Future phases include the decontamination of the environmental support system of the F-35, JSF-specific support equipment, pilot flight equipment, a complete F-35 and, if needed, subsystems of the F-35.