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.

Education

Graduate School Application Timeline

Below I’ve listed out what you should be planning to accomplish each month leading up to submitting your application for a Fall entry into graduate school. If you’re planning to start in the Spring, adjust by starting 6 months from the application deadline. Still thinking about whether or not you want to pursue a graduate degree? Check out some of my other blog posts on the topic: 1) Is Grad School “Worth It”? 2) Graduate School Application Tips.

July

  1. Do your research: Do your research to find out which colleges have programs, professors, and labs dedicated to the research or topic you’re interested in conducting or learning more about. Talk to professors at your undergraduate institution, employ the internet, ask colleagues. Make a list and rank them in order of precedence to you. Keep in mind that each school charges a non-refundable application fee of somewhere around $75-$100. It can get very expensive just to apply to graduate school so you may have to save up or pare down your list of schools.

August

  1. Take the GRE: When to take the test really depends on how much you plan to study and whether you want to have the option to take it more than once if you don’t get the score you want the first time around. Again, please remember that the exam is not cheap. It will cost you around $200 to take the GRE. Experts probably recommend first taking the test in something like August. I took the GRE twice: once in October and again in December during the application process.
    • For my favorite study resource, click here. The second time I took the test I wanted to improve my score so I utilized online test prep through Magoosh. Using this online tool, I improved my score by 8 percentile points in verbal reasoning, 18 percentile points in quantitative reasoning, and 17 percentile points in analytical writing! They have video lessons, flashcards, and practice questions and tests that help you in every area of the GRE. They also guarantee a +5 score improvement or your money back.
  2. Start drafting your Statement of Purpose: A clear statement of purpose is one of the major pieces that the admissions committee will be paying attention to while reviewing your application. Basically they want to know why you’re interested in pursuing a graduate degree and how you think their program will help you reach your goals. Click here for a brief article on how to write a statement of purpose.
  3. Polish your resume: You’ll need an updated resume to send to each person you request a letter of recommendation from. This will help them write the most personalized letter possible. Additionally, a resume, or portions of it, may be requested as part of your graduate school application or while applying to scholarships. It can also be helpful to send your resume to professors when reaching out about funding opportunities in their lab.

September

  1. Ask for Letters of Recommendation: Most schools will require 2-3 letters of recommendation. Do not wait until the last minute to ask for these. Many schools allow your recommenders to directly upload the letter via an e-mail link. Be sure to send your updated resume and personal statement (even if it’s only a draft) to your recommender so that they can write a more personal letter.
  2. Make a list of Professors with similar research interests: A good way to get a preliminary list of professors you’d like to talk to is to look at which schools have labs dedicated to the research areas you’re interested in or look for journal articles on those topics. Most schools provide contact info for professors on their websites and list their area(s) of specialty. Shoot over a brief e-mail with your resume attached sharing a one or two sentence background about you and why you’re interested in their research area. Let them know you’d like to learn more about the research they’re conducting and that they can learn more about you through your attached resume.

October

  1. Request Transcripts: Official college transcripts will be required as part of your application materials for each school.
  2. Reach out to Professors: If you’re planning to earn a spot in a specific professor’s lab, it’s important to reach out early on in the application process so that they don’t promise away all their funding to other students before you get to them. In my opinion, my persistence in reaching out to professors and being extremely upfront about my intentions to seek funding were paramount to how I was able to get paid to attend graduate school.

November

  1. Perfect your Statement of Purpose: Have a professor or honest friend, sibling, or colleague review your statement of purpose and provide feedback. Once you have a basic statement of purpose you’re happy with, slightly tweak it and save different versions for each school you apply to. Make sure you read the instructions for each application to ensure you’re addressing each school’s prompt in full.

December

  1. Submit your application: Because a school’s application deadline will vary, it’s important to check early on so that you don’t miss it. Some schools have rolling deadlines. When I applied to graduate school the deadlines for those seeking funding and those planning to provide their own funding sources (either paying out of pocket or coming with a scholarship) were slightly different.

Best wishes as you contemplate the next steps on your journey.

Kate

Education, Health & Fitness

How to Keep Your Sanity as a Full-Time Student

  1. Take at least one day a week off for a little self-love. I didn’t figure this out nearly early enough but it honestly saved my sanity once I did. No one can go pedal to the metal forever. Burnout is real and it’s inevitable if you don’t take some time to enjoy life as it’s passing you by. I recommend making a list of your favorite activities you wish you had more time for and optimizing your Saturday or Sunday by taking time to literally stop and smell the roses. My favorite way to do this was usually to wake up early on a Saturday and get a good run in then grab a great cup of coffee and explore the city, go hiking, try a new restaurant, get a pedicure etc. I usually found that by the time Sunday came around and it was time to be productive again, I had a relatively clear head to accomplish whatever I needed to before classes resumed on Monday.
  2. Look for free resources & don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everything in life worth having takes a good amount of effort and college isn’t the exception, but the harsh reality is that good grades can have a significant impact on the opportunities (co-ops, internships, and full-time job offers) available to you. I took advantage of TA & professor office hours, the school’s tutoring center, and the Academic Success Center which helped me create a schedule to better manage my time. Then, I swallowed my pride and I asked classmates who quickly grasped the material to explain it to me. The fact of the matter is that most people are surprisingly open to helping-you just need to ask (and sometimes offering money for their time doesn’t hurt either). Further, some professors take note of who has been to office hours and truly shown effort when determining a final grade that is close enough to round up or down.
  3. Eat well, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep. Taking care of your physical health can have monumental impacts on all the other aspects of your life. Eating well-balanced healthy meals throughout the day instead of that 2pm candy bar from the vending machine as you’re running to the next class is a great step in the right direction. Planning and cooking meals ahead and bringing them with in a lunchbox was my favorite way to stay on track. Also make sure you’re drinking plenty of water-no energy drinks don’t count! I recommend 1/2-1 full gallon of water a day. Carrying a water bottle to refill can help. Lastly, do not pull all-nighters. I repeat. No all-nighters. A late night here and there is fine. If you’re a night owl, staying up late is fine as long as you have the time to sleep a full 6-8 hours afterwards. After making it through 6 years of engineering courses, research, a work study job, marathon training, etc. without doing so, I honestly don’t see the value. Most nights I got 5-6 hours of sleep a night and while that wasn’t optimal, I can tell you the rare nights I got 3-4, I woke up feeling terrible and not having accomplished much more than if I had pulled the plug and gotten a few more hours of sleep. I see it as a case of the law of diminishing returns. Do your best to plan ahead and start assignments, projects, and studying early.

Do you have any tips you swear by? I’d love for you to share them with me in the comments. Be well and keep reaching for the stars!

Kate