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Test center commander pilots first eight-engine alternative fuel test

A B-52 Stratofortress takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 15 during a flight-test mission using a blend of synthetic fuel and JP-8 in all eight engines.  This is the first time a B-52 has flown using a synfuel-blend as the only fuel on board.  In September, the Air Force successfully flew a B-52 with two-engines using the synfuel-blend while the others used standard fuel. The B-52 test flights at Edwards are the initial steps in the Air Force process to test and certify a synthetic blend of fuel for its aviation fleet. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric M. Grill)

A B-52 Stratofortress takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 15 during a flight-test mission using a blend of synthetic fuel and JP-8 in all eight engines. This is the first time a B-52 has flown using a synfuel-blend as the only fuel on board. In September, the Air Force successfully flew a B-52 with two-engines using the synfuel-blend while the others used standard fuel. The B-52 test flights at Edwards are the initial steps in the Air Force process to test and certify a synthetic blend of fuel for its aviation fleet. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric M. Grill)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- For the first time in 36 years, the Air Force Flight Test Center commander at Edwards piloted a milestone flight as part of a test program here Friday.

A seasoned B-52 test pilot, Maj. Gen. Curtis Bedke took the opportunity to pilot a B-52 on its first flight running all eight engines on a Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuel blend.

"As a test pilot with more than 3,000 hours of operational B-52 experience, it certainly adds to our credibility for me to be able to fly the (mission) first-hand and know exactly what we've done to demonstrate this fuel's capabilities," General Bedke said.

The last time an AFFTC commander piloted a milestone flight in a test mission was June 4, 1970. On that mission, then-Brig. Gen. Alton D. Slay flew a rocket-assisted version of an F-104 Starfighter to an altitude of 104,000 feet and became the first Air Force general officer to fly higher than 100,000 feet.

"Well, this flight was nowhere near as exciting as something like that," General Bedke said. "But in many ways it may end up being much more significant in the long run."

Sunday, in an e-mail to Edwards personnel, General Bedke described the tests performed during the mission.

"We took off and did a combination of specific test points to determine fuel consumption, and also some operational flying," he wrote.

The tests included simulated bomb runs, an aerial refueling, a speed-down maneuver and some throttle bursts, according to the general.

"Our engineers are still analyzing the data, but the mission was quite a success," General Bedke said. "The next big step will be to confirm the airplane can start well at cold temperatures. We'll probably do that by going to Minot Air Force Base, N.D. in January or February."

Friday's eight-engine test follows a demonstration flight in September when two of the bomber's engines ran on a synthetic fuel, made from a 50-50 blend of traditional crude oil-based fuel and a Fischer-Tropsch fuel derived from natural gas. The jet's other six engines ran on traditional JP-8 jet fuel.

Officials said the eight-engine test further demonstrates the Air Force's commitment to using alternate fuels and is the next step in the testing and certification process before the fuel can go into widespread use.

"There's no telling where this could take us -- the sky's the limit," General Bedke said.