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Air Force unveils 'e' class of digitally produced planes, weapons

Air Force unveils 'e' class of digitally produced planes, weapons
Barbara Barrett, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, announced an "e" designation on Monday to planes and satellites designed digitally. The e7-7A training plane, depicted, is the first to carry the designation. Photo courtesy of Boeing

Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced the "e" series designation of digitally engineered planes and satellites on Monday.

The U.S. Air Force and Space Force will designate experimental aircraft, weapons and satellites designed and tested by digital engineering before taking form as "e-planes" and "e-sats," she said. The change ends a tradition of using "X" to designate experimental aircraft.

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Barrett announced the change at the Air Force Association's Virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference, where she was the lead speaker on Monday.

"For 73 years, the entire history of the Air Force, X-planes have represented technological innovation," she said. "Today, the e-plane and e-sat will join them in making history and ensuring airmen and space professionals have modern tools to protect our nation."

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Digital engineering employs computer modeling and simulation, as well as virtual and augmented reality, prior to construction of a physical prototype, to analyze how various configurations would work.

Modern digital engineering is more accurate and reliable than the computer-assisted development of the past, and costs less, officials say. The new classification reflects changes in development and manufacturing.

The first Air Force aircraft completely through the digital process designed using the digital approach is the eT-7A Red Hawk training plane.

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The Air Force said the aircraft went from an idea on a computer screen to first flight in just 36 months, Assembly hours were cut by 80 percent, and software development time was reduced by half, officials say.

"To inspire companies to embrace the possibilities presented by digital engineering, today the Department of the Air Force is announcing a new weapons system designator-the 'e' series," Barrett said on Monday. "Aircraft, satellites, weapon systems and more that are digitally engineered will receive an 'e' prefix."

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