AFMC Command News

A Classroom in the Sky: USAF Test Pilot School uses mountain gliders to simulate space shuttle approaches in Tehachapi

  • Published
  • By Adam Bowles
  • 412th Test Wing Public Affairs

To celebrate National Engineering Week, the United States Air Force Test Pilot School based at Edwards Air Force Base went to Tehachapi, California to fly mountain gliders as part of their Space Test Course. This course involved using the gliders to simulate space shuttle approaches in the mountains while using real time flight test engineering skills to complete the glider flights.

"We are up at the Skylark North Gilder School in Tehachapi," Jessica Peterson, Technical Director, 412th Operations Group explained. We are doing an event for the Space Test Course which is one of the schools at Test Pilot School.  This is an event where the students get to make a test plan, learn about a system, create some test cards, figure out the safety risks and then they can go out and fly this event on the gliders."

These student flight test engineers plan, schedule and execute flight test mission requirements by developing test plans and flight test cards as part of the Space Test Course. The mission of the Space Test Course is to produce adaptive, critical-thinking test professionals to conduct full-spectrum test and evaluation of space-domain systems. The curriculum is designed to provide students with tailored education covering test planning, test execution, analysis and reporting.

"With these gliders, we will be simulating a space shuttle approach," Peterson said. "The gliders actually come in really steep. The students have to collect data and after they get the data, they have to analyze it and write a report. So, this event is one of the first events that the Space Test Course students do for planning, executing and performing test."

The USAF Test Pilot School (TPS) chose Tehachapi and Skylark North Glider School as the location for the Space Test Course because the mountains of Tehachapi provide the perfect upward lift for the course to keep the gliders afloat.

"Space test is tricky," 1st Lt. Adam Ward, Student, USAF Test Pilot School explained. "You don't get many tries to do it in actual operations. So, that is one of the challenges that is being overcome by this Space Test Course. That's why programs like this are so important because we are training a bunch of individuals who are going to be true test professionals and we are going to mitigate the risk with testing space assets."

The instructors of the course also believe this is a cost effective way to get the students in the air who have never flown before.

"It's a bit of a novelty," Rusty Lowry, Instructor, USAF Test Pilot School explained. "What it does is that it adds a time element. So now you have to collect data. You're not sitting at a desk all day getting this information. You are actually sitting in front of the aircraft, trading altitude for airspeed all the way down. You have the clock ticking while you are trying to calculate air speed, pressure, wind direction, temperatures for the most proficient flight."

Lowry also says gliding is the perfect way to get a student to learn the basics of flight test.

"You have to coordinate all of your turns properly. There is no computer to do it for you. There is no engineer designed in the system. It gets you back to basics and you can apply those same skills to flying almost anything and be a little better," Lowry explained.

"Its better than a paper exercise or a simulator on the computer," Peterson said. "It is a real thing they are experiencing where the plan really matters."

TPS is currently accepting applications for individuals to attend the Space Test Course.  This is an approximately 12-month hands-on program to educate personnel in space domain test and evaluation as part of the USSF effort to increase the trained cadre of T&E professionals. For more information, visit the USAF Test Pilot School website.