USAF Test Pilot School finishes the year strong with partnerships, technical exchanges and holiday festivities

  • Published
  • By Jessica Peterson
  • 412th Operations Group

As the end of 2022 approaches, the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School wrapped up a year filled renewed relationships with foreign partners, first-hand looks at special and historic aircraft and even a small cultural exchange.

The USAF Test Pilot School (TPS) at Edwards Air Force Base hosted the Republic of Korean Air Force (ROKAF) for a technical exchange, sharing both flight experiences and cultural traditions. Over the past two weeks, the ROKAF team of pilots and engineers experienced flights in USAF T-38, F-16, C-12, and glider aircraft with TPS instructors.

The TPS staff were able to highlight some of the flight test techniques unique to Edwards Air Force Base such as F-16 High Angle of Attack departure testing, T-38 Tower Fly-by calibrations, and T-38 simulated Space Shuttle approaches. These events, all requiring the unique airspace, range and instructor pilot qualifications at Edwards AFB, were firsts for even the highly experienced ROKAF F-16 Test Pilot on the team.

Additionally, for the exchange, USAF TPS students and staff traveled to Sacheon Air Base in South Korea where they flew in ROKAF FA-20 and KT-1 aircraft. Lt. Col. Chris Taylor, USAF Instructor Test Pilot, chaperoned the students and provided learning objectives for the trip.

“The Capstone trip is part of the Qualitative Evaluation program,” Taylor explained. “The goal is to make the (TPS) students more well-rounded flight test professionals by exposure to different aircraft, control rooms, test centers, and test facilities.” 

The Qualitative Evaluation program is designed to have students fly and experience diverse and unique aircraft attributes; through the exposure they gain an increased confidence and ability to handle new flight test situations. As part of the program, unique aircraft are frequently at the USAF TPS ramp ranging from World War II era aircraft such as the DC-3 to foreign military aircraft like the L-39.

For the culmination of the Qualitative Program, students complete a Capstone event where they plan, execute, and report on an unfamiliar aircraft and mission set. Conducted towards the end of the one-year TPS curriculum, students are expected to apply flight test techniques they have learned over the course of the year. For the trip to ROKAF at Sacheon Air Base, the TPS students developed a plan to test and evaluate the FA-50, an attack variant of the T-50 jet trainer similar in size and capability to an F-16 aircraft.

The students developed a plan to test the performance, flying qualities, air-to-ground and air-to-air capabilities. The USAF TPS team also got to fly and experience spin characteristics in the KT-1 trainer aircraft, an aircraft similar to the T-6 Texan II. An additional highlight of the trip was the opportunity for the team to observe flight test and control rooms for the new KF-21 supersonic fighter. With the first flight of the KF-21 just this past July 2022, the USAF team observed the 19th, 20th and 21st flights of the brand-new aircraft while on the trip.

The Capstone trip isn’t just about exposure to aircraft, but also an opportunity to experience other services’ test methodologies. When asked to compare and contrast the ROKAF flight test to Edwards AFB, Taylor stated that many things were similar.

“The use of control rooms, the types of test techniques and the communication plan for the KF-21 testing we observed was very similar to the flight test here. English is the standard language for Air Traffic Control and flight test, so it was easy to understand,” Taylor said. “The biggest difference at Sacheon was the congested and limited airspace. Take-off time was critical with no slip capability.”

The USAF TPS team experienced exceptional hospitality while at Sacheon from when they first arrived through the entirety of the trip. When the ROKAF team traveled to Edwards AFB, Lt Col Taylor ensured that the team not only gained technical experiences at USAF TPS but also were able to participate in some American traditions. Not to miss out on the upcoming holidays, USAF TPS planned and hosted an American Thanksgiving feast with all the traditional fixings for the ROKAF and USAF TPS team. The culmination of a successful technical exchange, a Thanksgiving meal together was the perfect ending for shared experiences in flight test and cultural traditions.

As 2022 comes to a close, students from the graduating class, 22A gear up for their end-of-the-year activities including finishing up their Test Management Programs. The students year-long instruction culminates in a graduation ceremony and a Patch Night Ceremony, which signifies their achievements and their charge to begin their new careers as Test Professionals.

To watch the TPS Class 22A Graduation ceremony, click here.