Education, Engineering

What’s Test Pilot School Like?

Similar in nature to traditional military test pilot schools you may have heard of including the United States Naval Test Pilot School and U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, the test pilot school “professional course” I’m currently enrolled in at the National Test Pilot School (NTPS) is an intensive year-long course designed to develop skilled test pilots and flight test engineers. Because I get a lot of questions surrounding what the course is like, I thought I’d give you a brief overview of how the year is structured at NTPS (each test pilot school is going to have their own unique structure).

In another blog post I’ll get into the details of why I’ll be breaking my year into two six-month parts. (Hint: It’s part of my fellowship!)

The year-long professional course is broken down into two halves: the “Systems” phase and “Performance and Flying Qualities” (or P&FQ for short). Each six-month period is comprised of a series of 2-3 week long courses. Systems courses generally occur from January-June and P&FQ classes are held from July-December.

During the Systems phase you’re focusing on the testing of…well, systems. For example, we’ll complete courses learning about and testing GPS and other navigational systems, Night Vision Goggles (NVG) and Head Mounted Displays (HMD), avionics systems, and icing, just to name a few. Many of the flight tests involved in this phase are more qualitative in nature and things like evaluating pilot workload while operating certain systems is particularly important. There are a total of eight courses in the systems phase at NTPS.

As the name suggests, during P&FQ the focus shifts to evaluating the actual flying qualities and performance of aircraft. Some of the courses taken during this phase include takeoff and landing performance, stall theory, supersonic aero, elasticity, modern flight controls, and aircraft dynamics. In general, courses taken during this phase are much more math intensive and theoretical in nature because you need to understand the academics and theory behind the concepts before hopping into the airplane to perform P&FQ flight tests.

Each course generally looks something like this:

Week 1: One week of academic lectures in the classroom for a total of approximately 8 hours a day. On Friday morning you’ll sit for a written exam and will potentially have a short oral exam with an instructor.

Week 2: You’ll fly a demo flight to get familiar with what you’ll be analyzing during the flight test. Then you’ll work in a team of 3-4 students to plan a test and prepare test cards and potentially write a test plan, depending on the course. Sometimes the instructors will bring in relevant companies to explain and demo their products. For example, Thales came by to show us their Scorpion HMD and L3 Harris/Wescam demoed one of their Electro-Optical/Infrared turrets.

Week 3: This week you’ll perform an actual flight test with your team in an airplane, helicopter, or in a simulator (depending on the class), write a daily flight test report following the flight and work to analyze the data you collected. Finally, you’ll work throughout the week to prepare an oral briefing of your flight test and results which you will present on Friday morning either individually or as a team (again, depending on the course).

If you’d like me to explain something in further detail, or you liked this blog post, leave me a comment!

Keep your eyes peeled for a future blog post where I’ll list the minimum requirements for applying to test pilot school.

Ad Astra,

Kate

Note: I don’t speak officially on behalf of NTPS. All opinions here are my own.

4 thoughts on “What’s Test Pilot School Like?”

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