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Education, Engineering

Part II: Careers in Flight Test Engineering

After announcing my big news that I was selected on a full fellowship to attend the National Test Pilot School, I received a lot of interest from readers wanting to know a whole lot more about flight test engineering and the adventure I’ll be embarking on come January 2022!

This is part two of a three part series on Flight Test Engineering.

You can find part one by clicking here. It gives a brief introduction to flight test engineering, the role flight test engineers play, and why flight test engineering is a crucial step to the development and certification of aircraft and spacecraft.

In part two we’ll discuss the unique skills required of flight test engineers and some examples of where you might work as a Flight Test Engineer.

Finally, in part three I’ll tell you how I scored an opportunity to get paid to attend the National Test Pilot School and how you can apply in the future!

If you’ve decided that flight test engineering sounds like a pretty cool career, it’s helpful to understand some of the skills that make a good Flight Test Engineer. I’ve listed a few below that might help when applying to and interviewing for FTE jobs.

Leadership & Teamwork: As I mentioned in part one, FTEs are responsible for many phases of a flight test program. As such, a Flight Test Engineer must possess the skills required to successfully integrate and coordinate a diverse team that can effectively work together to fulfill the objectives of the test campaign.

Problem Solving & Communication Skills: Flight Test Engineers are able to break down a problem into finite characteristics that can be fixed and succinctly convey their findings in a way that will get the stakeholders to spend money on it. Further, because FTEs must write test plans & reports and present test findings, excellent verbal and written communication skills become even more crucial.

Safety/Risk Management: No matter where you work, safety and the management of risks will undoubtedly be a priority for the company, especially in the aerospace and space industries where almost every decision you make could have dire consequences. As a Flight Test Engineer, you’ll learn how to safely design and execute a test and effectively communicate the results.

Technical Competence & Confidence: Everyone I have spoken to who has been through a flight test engineering program has told me that test pilot school will undoubtedly challenge you in many ways. Mainly, between classes, presentations, flying etc, you’ll feel like you have more tasks to complete than hours available in a week. It’s important to learn how to prioritize tasks accordingly. The payoff is that you’ll graduate from the program with the expertise to lead with confidence and the technical competence to back it up.

In reality, the skills you acquire as a Flight Test Engineer can be leveraged to make you a great candidate for an incredibly wide range of jobs in nearly any industry. Remember, just because a job doesn’t specifically ask for a flight test engineering certification, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak to the unique skills and experience you can bring to the table. In actuality, the skills learned in a flight test engineering professional course, have the ability to bring depth to many areas of an aerospace/space professional’s career.

Where can you work as a Flight Test Engineer? Here is just a short list of the endless possibilities (in alphabetical order).

Stay tuned for part three and drop a comment here or on Instagram if you liked this post or have any questions!

Kate

Education, Engineering

Part I: Intro to Flight Test Engineering

After announcing my big news that I was selected on a full fellowship to attend the National Test Pilot School, I received a lot of interest from readers wanting to know a whole lot more about flight test engineering and the adventure I’ll be embarking on come January 2022!

This is the first of a three part series on flight test engineering.

In part one, I will introduce the field of flight test engineering, the important role Flight Test Engineers play in the field of aerospace, and explain why flight test engineering is crucial to the development and certification of aircraft and spacecraft.

Part two will highlight the special skills required of flight test engineers and some examples of where you can work as a flight test engineer.

Finally, part three will discuss how I snagged a coveted spot to get paid to attend the National Test Pilot School and how you can apply for the same opportunity in the future!

*It’s worth noting that FTE is short for both flight test engineering, the discipline, and Flight Test Engineer, the person who is responsible for managing a flight test campaign.

What is Flight Test Engineering?

Very broadly, flight test engineering is the engineering associated with the in-flight performance evaluation and testing of aircraft, spacecraft, and their systems. It requires the assimilation of data to substantiate design assumptions or demonstrate that the vehicle and/or its equipment achieve specified levels of performance. Further, flight test plays an integral role in the development and certification of new aircraft and spacecraft designs. For example, when NASA and SpaceX flew Demo-2 in 2020, this was the Crewed Dragon spacecraft’s final flight test prior to certification for regular crewed flights to the International Space Station. Astronaut Bob Behnken’s background as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School Flight Test Engineer course was likely a major reason he was one of two NASA astronauts selected for the Demo-2 mission.

What do Flight Test Engineers do?

Flight Test Engineers are responsible for the definition, planning, and execution of flight tests, and the data analysis and presentation of results obtained for the duration of a test program. The FTE plays a monumental role throughout the test campaign, often coordinating and managing the entire test team of test pilots, technical specialists, various engineers across several disciplines, and even maintenance engineers to ensure all objectives of the campaign are met. During the execution of the flight test, the Flight Test Engineer is usually either on board the aircraft or located in a control room, tracking the status of the flight test in real-time.

Why is Flight Test Engineering Important?

In aerospace, the mantra “test like you fly” is repeated often and for good reason. It can be nearly impossible to replicate truly realistic flight conditions on the ground, especially when dealing with spaceflight applications. Some flight conditions are just too complications or not well enough defined or understood to accurately model. At the same time, flight test data is essential to refining the models and simulations that are becoming increasingly integral to the design, development and certification processes. Furthermore, aircraft have a multitude of systems which interact in very complex ways that are often impossible to understand without flight testing the entire vehicle.

Stay tuned for part two and drop a comment here or on Instagram if you liked this article or have any questions!

Kate

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Education, Engineering

3 Tips to Make Your Dreams Come True

I’ve had my eyes set on the sky for as long as I can remember. As a second grader I stood in the driveway in my hometown of West Fargo, North Dakota staring up at the dark night sky. It was that year I started talking about my dream of working for NASA or becoming an astronaut one day, and as any of my friends or former classmates can attest, I haven’t stopped talking about it since. No, I’m still not an astronaut (yet *haha*), but I’d say I’m living out that second grader’s day dreams just about as closely as I possibly can.

Here are 3 tips for making your dreams come true:

  1. My parents were always supportive of anything I set my mind to, even through that phase where I wanted to be a model and they took me to “casting” events. LOL. Surround yourself with those who help cultivate your dreams and kindly let go of those who serve as roadblocks. The road to success is paved with trials and tribulations and you’ll need your support system to help keep you on your feet not if, but when, you stumble.
  2. Make a roadmap of the steps you need to accomplish in order to make your dream reality. Visualize the end goal and put in the sometimes challenging work to truly think in detail about what you can do along your journey to help get you there. For example, after realizing I wanted to play a role in humanity’s journey to discovery and realizing NASA was, at the time, really the only path to getting there, I researched the backgrounds of NASA scientists, engineers, and astronauts to see what they studied in college. I set the starting point of my roadmap there. Be agile and adjust your course when needed.
  3. Be the squeaky wheel and let people know what you want. No one cares more about your career more than you do and if you don’t openly share your goals, no one can help you achieve them. A caveat to this, in the wise words of a fortune cookie, “Keep your goals away from the trolls.”

Ad astra,

Kate