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December 21, 2012

Real-world projects prepare students for future flight test

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Laura Mowry
Staff Writer


When students arrive at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, they enter as the top operational pilots, navigators and engineers from the Air Force, sister services and allies.

After completing the intense year-long master’s program, they emerge as the next generation of elite test professionals that will handcraft war-winning capabilities of the future.

The comprehensive curriculum is designed around a unique build-up approach that brings together performance, flying qualities, systems and test management; preparing each student for the daunting task of overseeing a test management project (TMP), from start to finish, before graduation.

“The students have been learning all year long, the fundamentals, the theory, and the flight test techniques step by step. Along the way they start learning the flight test process. How you plan, review and complete the documentation that goes along with it, as well as how you go out and execute the testing and manage your resources to pay for it,” said Col. Lawrence M. Hoffman, USAF TPS commandant.

“The test management project is the capstone, the highlight of the year, where everything comes together. It’s an actual flight test program; they have completed end to end. This is a group of people, most of whom did not know step one of how to go about doing this 48 weeks ago. We are extremely proud of them; it’s really the highlight of the year to watch students shine during their final weeks here,” he continued.

By overseeing an entire test program from start to finish, students will be better prepared for the work ahead, no matter what test team they join after graduation.

“The students demonstrate through test management projects they have learned all the essential skills to go out there and be a productive member of any test team. Now, they may get into a program that is new or different than anything they have seen before, but at least they know the process, who to call, who to talk to and where the resources are throughout the test community to accomplish the test, gather data and answer the questions being asked,” said Hoffman.

The TMP is a real-world, real-impact test program that has been appropriately scaled to accommodate the six to eight months it takes the students to complete it. Each project team consists of six students and the responsibilities are assigned by the instructors.

“Students have to figure out how you gel as a team and divide up the work. It’s a lot of work for a team two or three times that size, with only a handful of people. At the same time, they continue to learn, while going through academics and flying. The TMP happens on top of all of that,” said Hoffman.

Completion of the project is a graduation requirement that serves as a thesis project and authorizes the students to be awarded a master’s degree in Flight Test Engineering.

While students attending the school fly a variety of airframes throughout the year, the four TMPs completed each year involve one of the core-curriculum aircraft, which include the C-12 Huron, T-38 Talon, F-16 Fighting Falcon and the one-of-a-kind NF-16D Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft (VISTA).

Class 12A, which graduated 24 new test professionals Dec. 7, successfully completed the following TMPs before venturing off into world of flight test: Project “HAVE DIVE,” Project “HAVE SHAKEWEIGHT,” Project “HAVE SURF,” and Project “HAVE PANIC.”

PROJECT HAVE DIVE: A joint thesis project between the Air Force Institute of Technology and TPS that evaluated analytical methods for planning flight test maneuvers that require diving the aircraft towards the ground with F-16 and T-38 aircraft. The project aimed to increase safety, effectiveness and efficiency in the testing of air-to-ground weapon systems.

Team members included: Maj. Richard J. Turner, Maj. Christopher Guarente, Capt. Gabriele Aiolfi, Capt. Michael C. Baker, Capt. Casandra M. Wolak, and Capt. Dayvid M. Prahl.

PROJECT HAVE SHAKEWEIGHT: A joint thesis project between AFIT and TPS that continued the investigation into the effects of wing-mounted missile fins and canards on the Limit Cycle Oscillation (LCO) characteristics of the F-16D. The team worked with a specially constructed AIM-9 missile shapes to validate prediction algorithms for future LCO-prone weapon load-outs.

Team members included: Maj. Joseph A. McGill, Maj. Andrew C. Rollins, Maj. Ryan A. Sanford, Capt. Jacob H. Debevec, Capt. Jeffrey R. Gray, and Capt. Colin Q. Hanson.

PROJECT HAVE SURF: The project used a mounted camera on an instrumented C-12 Huron to validate and optimize a method for determining the intrinsic and extrinsic calibration parameters using ground features visible in the collected images. The goal of the project was to streamline the normal, lengthy ground calibration process and lead to an auto-inflight calibration process for advanced optical navigation systems and targeting systems in a GPS-denied environment.

Team members included: Capt. Philip E. Lorenzini, Capt. Bradley M. King, Capt. Ryne P. Roady, Capt. Jeffrey L. Downing, Capt. Ryan G. Hefron and Maj. Richard H. Lyon.

PROJECT HAVE PANIC: A continuation from previous projects, supporting the Air Force Research Laboratory’s quest for Remotely Piloted Vehicle advanced flight control laws. The NF-16D VISTA was used to evaluate various flight control laws imbedded in the unique Variable Stability System of the aircraft. The project brought TPS one step closer to making VISTA the world’s first fully-reconfigurable manned, surrogate remotely piloted aircraft.

Team members included: Capt. Jeremy A. Vanderhal, Lt. Sarah E. Abbott, Capt. Travis R. Bryce, Capt. Maryann L. Ehlen, Capt. Vladislav Niazov, and Capt. Ryan K. Owen




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