The Society of Flight Test Engineers honored United States Air Force Test Pilot School technical director, David L. Vanhoy, with the 2012 Kelly Johnson Award for excellence and outstanding achievement in flight test engineering.
It is a single, annual award that recognizes an individual for their substantial contributions to flight test and the society.
The SFTE award, named after aerospace engineering great Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was first presented in 1973 to the visionary and founder of Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, better known as “Skunk Works,” whose forward-thinking designs led to the development of aircraft such as the SR-71 Blackbird, U-2 and F-117 Nighthawk.
“It’s an incredible honor and I’m humbled to even be considered for such a prestigious award whose past recipients include giants in the aerospace industry,” said Vanhoy.
Vanhoy’s influence in the flight test community began nearly 25 years ago after graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering and attending the University of Maryland, where he graduated with a Master of Science in the same field.
Following graduation, Vanhoy arrived at Edwards in 1988 and immediately began working as a High Angle of Attack Flying Qualities engineer on the Grumman X-29 research aircraft, known for its unique forward-swept wing design.
Upon completion of the program, Vanhoy continued to shape the flight test community and aerospace industry through his involvement in programs such as the F-16 Block 30 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, F-16 Multi-Axis Thrust Vectoring, F-16 Interim Reconnaissance Program, the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Flight and Propulsion Control Program, and numerous additional programs.
He also played a critical role in developing the NF-16D Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft, which uses a unique control system designed by Calspan to make it fly practically like any other aerospace vehicle.
VISTA provides TPS students with a one-of-a-kind hands-on experience of both good and bad handling quality characteristics found in many of the modern, highly augmented aircraft like the B-2 Stealth Bomber, F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. As the Air Force’s only manned flight control research vehicle, VISTA also plays a large role in risk reduction for future technologies such as Autonomous Air Collision Avoidance, Autonomous Aerial Refueling and Remotely Piloted Aircraft flight control development.
In 2000, Vanhoy was personally selected as the X-35 Flight Test Team Lead for the Air Force Flight Test Center. He helped plan, conduct and evaluate first flights and envelope expansion of the three variants of Lockheed Martin’s X-35.
As a distinguished graduate of the Test Pilot School’s Class 94A, Vanhoy returned to the school as a Flying Qualities master instructor following his time with the X-35 program.
As the school’s first civilian master instructor, he was responsible for the academic content of all Flying Qualities courses, managed a $6 million budget and supervised 20 instructors who accomplished 300 hours of graduate-level academic instruction and 2000 flight hours of instruction each year.
After leaving TPS for leadership experience as the Flight Chief of the 773rd Flight Test Squadron at Edwards, Vanhoy became the second-ever civilian technical director of the school.
“Dave is wonderful to work with on a daily basis and he is one of my right-hand men. He is well deserving of this award and I was thrilled that he was nominated and selected to receive it,” said Col. Lawrence M. Hoffman, USAF TPS commandant.
With the school’s obligation to remain on the forefront of advancing technologies during a time of budget reductions, TPS faces a number of unique challenges including planning for the future and guaranteeing they continue to recruit the best.
With the short tenure of military leadership at the school, Vanhoy provides continuity and a wealth of background information to help the commandant make informed decisions that will benefit the school in years to come.
“We are mapping out the future of the school for several years to continue to bring in the best people and Dave is instrumental in making that happen. He has been here the longest and I turn to him for a lot of the backstory on challenging issues we face today. He is our chief architect for the future of the school,” said Hoffman.
“He’s doing incredible things right here, right now, that will have long lasting impact to the school and to the U.S. Air Force. We want to continue maintaining that extremely high level of quality. To do that, you have to attract the best people to apply to the school and come through as students and also come back as staff and instructors,” he continued.
As technical director, Vanhoy also functions as the school’s lead engineer and occasionally still has the opportunity to fly with students.
“As a glider instructor, there are three sorties I get to fly with them. There is the ‘Glider 101,’ a high- lift-to-drag sortie where we take pilots to solo, which is a huge confidence builder for them. There is also a flying qualities sortie and a spin sortie where we introduce the students to high-angle-of-attack flight test techniques,” said Vanhoy.
In addition to flying with the students, Vanhoy is heavily involved in the test management projects. The projects are the culmination of the intensive, year-long master’s program and typically require six to eight months to complete. They give students valuable, hands-on experience during which they oversee a real-world test program.
“I chair the Technical Review Board for all of the test management projects. I read them all and approve the execution of the TMPs from a technical standpoint and next month all the reports will come in and I get to read them all and sit through the ‘murder boards.’ And that’s fun because they’re all great programs – they all have real-world impact,” said Vanhoy.
For Vanhoy, what is most rewarding about working at TPS is seeing the students on graduation day after they have successfully completed the rigorous program and are now test pilots and flight test engineers for the United States Air Force, sister services and allies. Perhaps just as rewarding for him is seeing what the students go on to do after graduation.
Vanhoy is one of four Test Pilot School staff members to receive the SFTE Kelly Johnson Award in the past 11 years, honoring their sustained contributions to the flight test community.
“In 68 years of history, the graduates of the school have been heavily involved in the development of the Air Force and its leading edge technology. We are fortunate to bring back some of the most talented engineers and instructor pilots in the Air Force and test community. This is a nice confirmation and accreditation of the caliber of people we have at the school,” said Hoffman.