USAF’s new eSeries classification is for digitally designed aircraft

The United States Air Force has introduced a new classification for hardware that it says refers to its ‘digital future.’ Called the ‘eSeries,’ this classification refers to aircraft that is digitally engineered and virtually tested well before the first physical prototype is created, a ‘paradigm shift’ that is particularly important during the pandemic. The classification will apply to the very first USAF aircraft that was designed with the digital-first approach: Boeing’s eT-7A Red Hawk advanced trainer.

Digital and virtual technologies have become increasingly sophisticated, enabling uses across vast industries. When it comes to aviation, for example, these technologies are now leveraged to train pilots using aircraft simulation before they get in the cockpit of an actual jet. NASA has used similar tech to help train astronauts, but there are uses beyond virtual training.

Many technologies enable products to not only be designed digitally, but also tested in virtual environments that simulate a variety of potential scenarios, complicating factors, and more. This makes it possible to design and test new potential products relatively quickly and cheaply, eliminating the cost and time it would take to develop and test a physical prototype.

Concepts that are seemingly promising on paper may, after testing virtually, be dismissed as impractical or unsuitable for the intended purpose. The US Air Force is embracing these technologies for this reason, explaining that by leveraging a digital-first model, the first eSeries aircraft resulted in an 80-percent reduction in assembly hours and only half the usual time spent in software development.

The eT-7A Red Hawk was able to go from digital to its first flight in 36 months as a result, the USAF said in a statement last week. Going forward, these digital-first aircraft will be classified with the eSeries designation, which will also be applied to weapon systems, satellites, and other products that were digitally engineered.

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