By Della Perry, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School
/ Published December 13, 2006
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School will graduate Class 06A Saturday, the school's 145th class since its beginning at Wright Field in 1944.
Since its conception, the Test Pilot School has added women, engineers and navigators to the cadre of graduates, and Class 06A is no different, as the 12 pilots, 10 engineers and two navigators include members from Israel, the United Kingdom, a Defense Department civilian and two female students.
The "Test Pirate" in lieu of the "Test Pilot," is how the students refer to themselves, said Capt. David Garay, a flight test engineer in the class. He said the nickname was chosen by a series of debates and arguments over a few pints -- a sign of any good pirate!
With only a one-in-four selection rate for Test Pilot School applicants, many students said they had high expectations for themselves and their fellow students for the year-long course.
"I expected to be fire-hosed with graduate level material regarding compressible aerodynamics, propulsion, stability, electronic warfare, radar, and many others," said Capt. Eric Rucker. "I also figured I would be tired, seriously stressed, and burned out from the second month on."
In the end, Captain Rucker said he made some life-long friends and finds himself, "more than competent in the art and science of Flight Test Engineering."
Other students said they shared this sentiment.
"It was the most rewarding experience I've had in the Air Force," said Maj. Varun Puri, the class leader. "The year would have been impossible without the incredible help the class got from their spouses.
"Dealing with (temporary duties), long days, desert critters that build their homes in our houses, all while planning the endless TPS class social events -- they are awesome," he said.
Students completed what some call "one of the most challenging and demanding courses in the world." Each completed more than 558 hours of academics and more than 670 hours of flight training -- averaging about six hours per day of instructor contact time, not including academic and flight preparation time.
"They didn't teach us everything there is to know about testing, but they did teach us how and where to find out," Major Puri said. "The opportunity to fly so many aircraft and experience such a wide realm of aircraft missions can be found nowhere else in the Air Force and possibly the world."
During the final six months, the students also demonstrated learning from across the curriculum by planning and executing real-world test management projects.
HAVE DOLPHIN, or Project ThUMP, explored the concept of "dolphin" soaring to extract total energy from thermal life. This technique, versus the standard circling method of soaring in thermals, has application to long-duration Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. This and other non-traditional soaring methods have been under investigation by NASA and TPS for some time. This test used the school's highly instrumented L-23 Super Blanik and was staged out of the North Base Glider Port. Team members included Maj. Christopher Robinson, Maj. Peter Vitt, Capt. Chris Childress, Capt. Bryan Duke, Capt. Chris King and 1st Lt. Michael Williams.
HAVE SHAKE, or HAVE LoCo, was designed to quantify the effect a single parameter (torque on the sway braces) had on the overall limit cycle oscillation characteristics. A standard curriculum sortie was used as baseline. Flown using a Data Acquisition System F-16B with instrumented wingtip missile rails and representative store loadings, the Air Force Research Laboratory requested the test. Team members included Maj. Daron Drown, Major Puri, Israeli air force Maj. Lior Zaibel, Capt. David Garay, Capt. Sebrina Pabon and Michael Brooks.
HAVE BATmobile, or Bat Dart, investigated the effects of imposing boundaries on a dynamic point-tracking in flight. Data collected during the flights was analyzed and compared with a theoretical model and simulator data to determine the overall theory validity. The Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft, or VISTA NF-16 aircraft, was used for this flight test. This aircraft was flown single ship and with chase, following a pitch tracking task profile displayed in the head-up display. This was a joint Air Force Institute of Technology and TPS project. Team members included Maj. Danny Slifer, Maj. Jason Wierzbanowski, Capt. Jason Dotter, Capt.Carmen Evans, Capt. Travis Higgs and Capt. Grant Mizell.
HAVE SIGHT, or Project Syclops, gathered data used to investigate the use of an electro-optic sensor for relative navigation during autonomous air refueling. The data collection used a C-12 aircraft to simulate a tanker, and a Calspan Learjet as the surrogate unmanned aerial vehicle receiver. The Learjet contained an electro-optic camera mounted on the glare shield with a data acquisition system to record video. This was also a joint AFIT and TPS project. Team members included Maj. James Spencer, Navy Lt. John Bush, United Kingdom Flight Lieutenant Karl Kinsler, Capt. Justin Hsia, Capt. David Petrucci and Captain Rucker.
"Each student has been trained to lead members of a flight test team in the latest methods of flight testing, systems evaluation, and test management, while instilling the cooperation and understanding between test team members necessary for successful flight test operations," said Lt. Col. Eric Lagier, TPS deputy commandant. "Each of the 24 members of Class 06A is now ready to take a place in the flight test community. Not as the gruff bunch of pirates this class would like you to think they are, but as hard working, highly intelligent individuals seeking to be the best of the best and the leaders of generations to come."