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Edwards Test Squadron’s New Patch Teases 6th Generation Aircraft Silhouette

445th Test Squadron
The 445th Test Squadron patch (Reader’s submission)

The recently reactivated 445th Test Squadron has a new patch that features, among the other things, an interesting NGAD-like aircraft silhouette.

The U.S. Air Force as well as the U.S. aerospace industry have been teasing NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance) or, more broadly, next generation manned fighter currently being developed for some years.

To add to the series of hints, the recently reactivated 445th Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California, has just adopted a new squadron patch which features an NGAD-like aircraft, along with the B-21 Raider, the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II.

As we have also said commenting the other graphics (both those of the U.S. Air Force and the industry), the squadron may have simply picked a random, stylized, fictional aircraft that has nothing to do with the real thing; however, the presence in the patch of a sixth generation aircraft is remarkable as it marks yet another step towards the revelation of the NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance) prototypes.

445th Test Squadron today

According to the U.S. Air Force, the squadron is a child unit to the 412th Electronic Warfare Group of the 412th Test Wing, with a history dating back to 1943 as the 445th Fighter Squadron (Special), assigned to the 50th Fighter Group, as a training unit. It later became the first squadron designated solely for fighter jets. It was reactivated as a consolidated Test Operations Squadron under the 412th Operations Group, in March 2004.  In this role it conducted projects unaffiliated with any of the Wing’s Combined Test Forces and flew F-16s for photo and safety chase.  It served the 412th Operations Group in that capacity until it was inactivated again on May 1, 2015..

The 445th Test Squadron was reactivated on Jun. 29, 2022, and its primary mission, will be the Joint Simulation Environment “which will provide a state-of-the-art modeling and simulation environment to conduct fifth-generation and next-generation developmental test, operational test, and high-end advanced training and tactics development for the warfighter, as a part of the 412th Electronic Warfare Group.”

Therefore, the 445th TS will be involved in the 72,000 sq. ft. Edwards JSE digital test range’s actvities. The JSE is, in short, a common simulated battlespace where multiple simulators can interact in a real world scenario.

The patch

The 445th TS patch is extremely interesting. The motto on the emblem is “Suus ‘iustus ludus donec non”, Latin for “It’s just a game, until it’s not”, in accordance with the task of the unit responsible for complex simulations involving assets, weather, weapons effects and electronic warfare (EW). The graphic elements in the patch appear to have been positioned in a way that reminds the screen of Space Invaders, the famous shoot ’em up arcade video game: there are red F-35 silhouettes in the upper side, hinting at their role as enemies, and the digitized silhouettes of the Blue Forces (NGAD, B-21, F-22 and F-35) in the bottom.

The NGAD-like shape is similar, to the one teased by Lockheed Martin on social media last summer (the most evident difference is in the exhaust section).

Two large eyes divide the lower part of the patch and the upper part of it (that feature, respectively, 4 friendly aircraft, and 4+5 red F-35s – 445 as in 445th TS?): these seem to be those of an owl, giving the patch a look reminding the one of the B-2 Combined Test Force. From distance, the eyes with the NGAD and B-21 silhouette seem to form the face of a owl with its beak (although it can also be something else). By the way, let’s not forget that, as we reported months ago, “Bird of Prey” is probably also the name Skunk Works uses to refer to the NGAD program (click here for more details).

Needless to say, the above one is just one possible interpretation of the symbolism and heraldic items (some of those, as said, also included in other logos/patches related to black projects) featured in the new 445th Test Squadron’s patch.

Let’s quickly recap what we know about NGAD

In September 2020, Dr. Will Roper, the then Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, made it public that the U.S. Air Force had secretly designed, built and flown at least one full-scale prototype of a new generation fighter aircraft, as part of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

Few days after the digitally-engineered advanced sixth-generation full-scale flight demonstrator was announced, the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs published on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service an interesting graphic for the Air Force’s 73rd birthday featuring an unknown new aircraft.

While the aircraft in the image could be completely fictional, its shape could also be a loose hint at the design chosen for the first prototype build for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

Fast forward to 2023, according a recent podcast from the Defense & Aerospace Report, which you can find here, at least three NGAD demonstrators are involved in testing. A couple of weeks later, on Jul. 1, 2023, Lockheed Martin’s official Instagram account posted an story to celebrate the 80th anniversary of its famous Skunk Works advanced projects division. Among the aircraft silhouettes shown in the IG story, there was one that really struck everyone’s attention: the one of an unknown, clearly manned next generation aircraft.

Here’s what we wrote commenting the appearance of that enigmatic silhouette:

In terms of planform and shape, this 6th-gen design is similar to previous designs released by Lockheed Martin, showing a tailless design (considered ideal to obtain very low observability) with a diamond-shaped wing planform with straight leading and trailing edges. The engines are fully contained in the fuselage, with only two bulges denoting their position on the upper fuselage. As many low-observable designs, the exhaust is located on the upper surface of the rear fuselage, shielding almost completely the infrared signature of the two-dimensional diamond-shaped nozzles. The air intakes are not visible, as they are mounted below the fuselage, flush with the joint between wing root and fuselage, as it could be seen in an older frontal rendering of the almost identical design.

Northrop Grumman and Boeing have also teased the shape of their notional NGAD-like concepts in recent videos.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

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