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Route to Flight Test Engineering

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Route to Flight Test Engineering

Old 4th Jul 2021, 08:36
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Route to Flight Test Engineering

Hello Engineers & Pilots,

I am about to start my masters program in mechanical engineering, and have an undergraduate in the same domain as well. If time permits, I will be completing my PPL on the side as well. Now considering, a lot of flight test engineers are from the military background, as a civilian, how can I stand out? Are there any certification courses I could do? or how do I go along looking for internships in the flight test department?
Any tips would be really helpful!!

Thank you!
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Old 4th Jul 2021, 11:41
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If you can find employment as a flight test intern, certainly take it! Be where the flying and testing is happening. That said, generally flight test organizations are looking for people who have formal flight test training. There are a number of flight test schools around the world. Many cater mostly to the military, and yes, civil flight test staff are often retired military who have taken those courses during their military service. Because of the cost to operate advanced aircraft, these courses are pretty expensive. One organization is ITPS Canada: https://itpscanada.com

A PPL is certainly a start, though a lot of experience on different types is required - but you have to start somewhere! Fly as many different types as you can as you learn and build experience!
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Old 4th Jul 2021, 15:39
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I see, thank you for that. I will looking out for flight test intern positions in the mean time, Any tips you could give me?
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Old 4th Jul 2021, 15:54
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This must be possible as several engineering types with civilian flight experince have migrated all the way to VP positions in Flight Test and Evaluation.
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Old 4th Jul 2021, 22:29
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Originally Posted by j8naid View Post
Hello Engineers & Pilots,

I am about to start my masters program in mechanical engineering, and have an undergraduate in the same domain as well. If time permits, I will be completing my PPL on the side as well. Now considering, a lot of flight test engineers are from the military background, as a civilian, how can I stand out? Are there any certification courses I could do? or how do I go along looking for internships in the flight test department?
Any tips would be really helpful!!
If you ask "the man on the street" about flight test they probably think of daring pilots climbing into aircraft that stand a good chance of killing them. There is a lot more to flight test and flight test engineering than the tasks performed by the test pilot. Actually many of the tasks (test points) performed by the test pilot can be very dull and are best done by the autopilot.

I started in flight test because I knew something about the systems being tested. In my case it was avionics. I was a private rated glider pilot but the flight test job (development and certification of Cat IIIa autoland) had more to do with the ability to count small squares on a pen recorder plot without throwing up than it had to do with my flying skills.

That first flight test program was with the airframe company but I was on several more representing the avionics supplier. On those later programs it was a natural progression from system specification, through system integration in test labs, and then to the flight test aircraft. I wasn't recruited for any of those programs to be a flight test engineer but the best people to have on the airplane were those who had helped develop the systems under test and knew how they should perform.

For some the meaning of "flight test engineer" is very specific - it's the person who prepares the flight test procedures (test cards) and directs the conduct of each test card during the actual flight test. For others it's more general. On my first flight test program my position in the flight test organization was "senior flight test engineer" but I never had the role of flight test engineer on a test flight. I was just one of the guys in back.

There are many ways to be involved in flight test. How specialized do you want to be?




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Old 6th Jul 2021, 00:57
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Actually many of the tasks (test points) performed by the test pilot can be very dull and are best done by the autopilot.
I don't know about the autopilot, but yes, much of test flying is very dull and mundane. The only reason that dull and mundane is not easy, is that immense precision of hitting the test point right on is still required.

I have noticed which flying under mentoring from formal test pilots, and in some cases, flying right seat PIC to a formal test pilot flight test, is that the best test pilots are "unconsciously competent" at simply flying the plane. The flying part has to just "be there", so that the actual objective of the flight is foremost in what's going on. I have, as the sole test pilot, sometimes have just needed a few hours of building the competence with a new type, before actually flying it for the purpose of demonstrating design compliance. In defense of a couple of formal authority test pilots, for whom I have taken the role as pilot not flying PIC, I can see that they've been thrown into the deep end. Indeed, on one program, I was satisfies that the authority test pilot was so far away from that class airplane experience, that he could not have landed it safely at all. Finding that out in flight sets up some awkward cockpit dynamics! More recently, I have found, that while flying right seat PIC to an authority test pilot in a client's plane, I've been asked [told] that only I may land and take off, not the other pilot. I agreed with a quiet inside voice relaxation.

I, as a few of my test pilot mentors over the years, came to test flying by being the most experienced pilot for the type, who was available to fly the program. I did not come to it by enrolling in a flight test course first. So, my career has a glass ceiling, as most organizations require formal training early on, to go on to the top of the profession. I'm quite happy not going on to greater heights in flight testing, I've accomplished a lot already. I took task specific flight test training along the way, but not in a formal flight test "school", I hired qualified instructors to teach me specific flight test tasks, appropriate to what I was testing. In part, because most of what I test fly (float and ski installations and external probe/camera installations, and taildraggers) is not really taught in flight test schools much.

I can't speak much to the FTE role, as I do little of that. I have hired a few from time to time. Ultimately, I have seen that experience, and unconscious competence with the aircraft, are what the employers are looking for. Happily, I came to flight testing with thousands of hours in various GA types, and sought only to flight test that class.

If you want to be involved in flight testing, my first, and best advice, based upon my life of doing it, is to be where it is happening, and make yourself useful and dependable there in any role, as you learn the skills, and build the confidence of the people around you. Then keep working at it, and as time passes, you'll rise. If you stay long enough, you'll be known as the dependable person they know that they need for the job.
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Old 6th Jul 2021, 01:27
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Originally Posted by Pilot DAR View Post
I don't know about the autopilot, but yes, much of test flying is very dull and mundane. The only reason that dull and mundane is not easy, is that immense precision of hitting the test point right on is still required.

I have noticed which flying under mentoring from formal test pilots, and in some cases, flying right seat PIC to a formal test pilot flight test, is that the best test pilots are "unconsciously competent" at simply flying the plane. The flying part has to just "be there", so that the actual objective of the flight is foremost in what's going on. I have, as the sole test pilot, sometimes have just needed a few hours of building the competence with a new type, before actually flying it for the purpose of demonstrating design compliance.
I've flown on countless hours of flight testing, and every single test pilot I encountered had excellent "stick and rudder" skills to the point where - as Pilot DAR suggests - the 'flying' of the aircraft was almost subconscious, the attention was on the detail of getting the test point correct.
One of the most impressive flight test feats I ever witnessed was when we were flight testing the 747-8. The test requirement was to fly straight and level, but with a 20 degree yaw and hold it there for 60 seconds (they had a screen in the pilots field of vision that showed the amount of yaw). We weren't very high (14k IIRC, over a ~4k ground level) - low enough that I wondered how much altitude we'd need to recover if it got away from the pilot. We did the condition twice so they could test the effect of the 20 deg yaw both ways. It was painfully obvious that the 747 didn't like doing that (I wondered what it must have looked like to someone on the ground), and on the first condition the pilot struggled to hold the correct yaw - enough so that he apologized for a 'sloppy' test point. But he also learned quickly - the second condition he held the yaw right on (and offered to re-do the first condition but it was deemed unnecessary).
I also recall a pre-flight before going up to do a number of stall conditions. They were using a trailing cone for ambient (static) pressure - one of the test engineers told the pilot who was going to fly the conditions to 'avoid using rudder to recover' from the stalls since a big rudder swing could shear off the trailing cone. The pilot turned to the test engineer and stated - in a very 'mater of fact' tone, that he would do what he need to do to recover from the stall, if that meant a rudder swing that sheared off the trailing cone, so be it...
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Old 6th Jul 2021, 12:13
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I have found that there are different types of pilots out there. Few professional pilots I have flown with are "bad", but some good pilots, are not a good choice for "test pilot". Some know it, some don't, it has been my task when flying two crew to determine this. Often, I was wonderfully mentored on the type, and allowed fly what I needed to fly. Some experienced pilots understood what I needed to do to demonstrate compliance, but did not want to participate, and a few simply showed themselves to good pilots who should not fly to the edges of the envelope. A couple of times, I had to return, and very diplomatically ask for a different second pilot. This, mostly, as the second pilot demonstrated an uneasiness with the specified and briefed test point/maneuver. This could be seen in that they tried to "help" on the controls. A number of times, it was necessary, and wise that I be checked out on a new type, before test flying it. For some very basic "check" type test flights, I could really just do it during an hour long checkout flight, and suggested that, to save the second flight. I have a number of recollections of a check pilot saying to me, no, you're the test pilot, I would rather not do that stuff, you're checked out, take me back, and do it on your own. Okay, I never want someone aboard, who does not want to be there!

I know a few several hundred hour, fairly new pilots, who I would send, with a good briefing, to do a number of tests. And, I know some multi thousand hour commercial pilots, whom I would not allow to fly more than a 30 degree bank, or within 10 knots of stall speed. It's only partly an experience thing, its also a hands and feet, and relaxed/fully aware of what's going on around you thing. The result is that without flying with someone, I can't say if they are suited to test flying or not, I've got to fly with them. But, I do know that the candidate pilot must understand the plane's capabilities and limitations, and understand the sensations of being there in flight.
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Old 25th Jul 2021, 16:55
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Originally Posted by EXDAC View Post
If you ask "the man on the street" about flight test they probably think of daring pilots climbing into aircraft that stand a good chance of killing them. There is a lot more to flight test and flight test engineering than the tasks performed by the test pilot. Actually many of the tasks (test points) performed by the test pilot can be very dull and are best done by the autopilot.

I started in flight test because I knew something about the systems being tested. In my case it was avionics. I was a private rated glider pilot but the flight test job (development and certification of Cat IIIa autoland) had more to do with the ability to count small squares on a pen recorder plot without throwing up than it had to do with my flying skills.

That first flight test program was with the airframe company but I was on several more representing the avionics supplier. On those later programs it was a natural progression from system specification, through system integration in test labs, and then to the flight test aircraft. I wasn't recruited for any of those programs to be a flight test engineer but the best people to have on the airplane were those who had helped develop the systems under test and knew how they should perform.

For some the meaning of "flight test engineer" is very specific - it's the person who prepares the flight test procedures (test cards) and directs the conduct of each test card during the actual flight test. For others it's more general. On my first flight test program my position in the flight test organization was "senior flight test engineer" but I never had the role of flight test engineer on a test flight. I was just one of the guys in back.

There are many ways to be involved in flight test. How specialized do you want to be?
Hi,
thank you so much for your reply!
Not very specific initially, I really wanna get my foot into the door, and see where it leads me. The plan however, is to not only look for the flight test positions, but aim for major employers and later leverage myself into the position, depending on the availability.
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Old 25th Jul 2021, 16:59
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Originally Posted by Pilot DAR View Post
I don't know about the autopilot, but yes, much of test flying is very dull and mundane. The only reason that dull and mundane is not easy, is that immense precision of hitting the test point right on is still required.

I have noticed which flying under mentoring from formal test pilots, and in some cases, flying right seat PIC to a formal test pilot flight test, is that the best test pilots are "unconsciously competent" at simply flying the plane. The flying part has to just "be there", so that the actual objective of the flight is foremost in what's going on. I have, as the sole test pilot, sometimes have just needed a few hours of building the competence with a new type, before actually flying it for the purpose of demonstrating design compliance. In defense of a couple of formal authority test pilots, for whom I have taken the role as pilot not flying PIC, I can see that they've been thrown into the deep end. Indeed, on one program, I was satisfies that the authority test pilot was so far away from that class airplane experience, that he could not have landed it safely at all. Finding that out in flight sets up some awkward cockpit dynamics! More recently, I have found, that while flying right seat PIC to an authority test pilot in a client's plane, I've been asked [told] that only I may land and take off, not the other pilot. I agreed with a quiet inside voice relaxation.

I, as a few of my test pilot mentors over the years, came to test flying by being the most experienced pilot for the type, who was available to fly the program. I did not come to it by enrolling in a flight test course first. So, my career has a glass ceiling, as most organizations require formal training early on, to go on to the top of the profession. I'm quite happy not going on to greater heights in flight testing, I've accomplished a lot already. I took task specific flight test training along the way, but not in a formal flight test "school", I hired qualified instructors to teach me specific flight test tasks, appropriate to what I was testing. In part, because most of what I test fly (float and ski installations and external probe/camera installations, and taildraggers) is not really taught in flight test schools much.

I can't speak much to the FTE role, as I do little of that. I have hired a few from time to time. Ultimately, I have seen that experience, and unconscious competence with the aircraft, are what the employers are looking for. Happily, I came to flight testing with thousands of hours in various GA types, and sought only to flight test that class.

If you want to be involved in flight testing, my first, and best advice, based upon my life of doing it, is to be where it is happening, and make yourself useful and dependable there in any role, as you learn the skills, and build the confidence of the people around you. Then keep working at it, and as time passes, you'll rise. If you stay long enough, you'll be known as the dependable person they know that they need for the job.
Very well said, thank you for that, exactly what I am aiming for!
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Old 17th Aug 2021, 21:34
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I can only second Pilot DAR's advice. The Flight Test Community is quite small - a running joke is that "If we haven't got a few mutual friends, someone's lying about their resume". In any company, even large ones, the number of people engaged in Flight Testing (of all levels & specialties right down to the essential Mechanics that keep everything flying) is very small. So my advice is join the Flight Test Department in any role available to you & then be prepared to take advantage of any airborne testing offered. There may be plenty of Graveyard shifts in your future (any Simulator time will be between midnight & 4 am) but you will eventually get to go test.

Having been involved with Avionics Flight Testing, I should point out that one of the largest chunks of Flight Testing in any program is the Autopilot - even more if clearance to lower minima like CAT II or CAT III is required.

Last edited by ICT_SLB; 17th Aug 2021 at 21:51.
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Old 17th Aug 2021, 23:43
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A few thoughts in addition to the excellent advice above.

- Take our student membership of the Society of Flight Test Engineers and aim to attend any meetings available to you.

- As well as learning to fly, look to breadth of experience - different types, control systems, classes. Anything you can get, and learn from it.

- Your ability to observe, analyse, and write will be as important as your technical and flying ability. Develop those skills too.

G
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