FalconView draws rave reviews

The Air Force Reserve received recognition throughout the PC industry this month for a low-cost Windows-based software program it developed to help Air Force Navy and Air Force One pilots plan their flights.

The program called FalconView was one of five finalists at the Windows World conference in Atlanta which was hosted by Bill Gates Microsoft Corp.'s chairman and chief executive officer.

Maj. Bobby Sanford an F-16 pilot with the 162nd Fighter Wing in Richmond Va. who helped develop FalconView said the Windows World recognition amounted to "being nominated for an Academy Award."

FalconView provides pilots with the tools and software required to plan a mission on a PC. Pilots flying F-16s take the program a step further by plugging a cartridge containing the computer-derived flight plan into the aircraft's navigation system which provides pilots with maps and imagery from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency as well information on airfields threats weather and other data.

Transport crews such as those flying the president's Air Force One jet also use FalconView to plan missions and track in-flight progress said Maj. Joe Webster FalconView's sponsor who works in the Reserve Operational Requirements Branch of the Pentagon.

Webster said the flight crew plans missions on a laptop which is brought on board and hooked into the aircraft's Global Positioning System receiver. The laptop with its moving map display "sits right at the flight engineer's desk and the GPS feed is tied into a moving aircraft icon on the map " he said.

The Air Force Reserve launched FalconView in 1993 to field a low-cost mission-planning system for F-16 squadrons in both the Reserve and the Air National Guard. The Windows software has found widespread acceptance in active-duty Reserve and National Guard squadrons flying not just F-16s but other aircraft as well including all "distinguished visitor" aircraft operated by the 89th Air Wing at Andrews Air Force Base Md. the home of the Air Force One 747s and smaller VIP planes. FalconView also supports mission planning for C-130 transports A-10 attack aircraft and helicopters operated by the Special Operations Command.

The Windows 95/NT program cost a total of $2.5 million to develop Webster said - a real bargain compared with the more than $100 million the Electronic Systems Center has pumped into the Air Force Mission Support System which runs on Unix workstations. Webster said the $2.5 million covers development costs and distribution of the software to about 13 000 pilots. "We figure FalconView costs about $200 a pilot " Webster said.

John Pyles FalconView's project director at Georgia Tech where the software was developed said FalconView runs on very tightly written code - about 250 000 lines. "We packed a lot into that code " he said.

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