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October 4, 2013

Navy Test Pilots visit Edwards TPS

The senior class of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and the USAF Test Pilot School gathered Tuesday night for a barbecue dinner hosted by Al and Cathy Hansen in their hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

The senior class of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School joined the USAF Test Pilot School for a week-long field trip Sept. 28 and will return home Oct. 5.

Students from Edwards TPS are slated to visit the naval school at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., next month.

The trips are an annual exchange that happens every six months, once for each graduating class.

During their visit, Edwards TPS acts as “home base” for the visiting students when they are not out exploring the local aviation community.

Lt. Commander Brandon Smith, U.S. Naval Test Pilot School class 144 class leader, said he had never seen the inside of an F-16 before.

“The first day I was here I flew one at seven o’ clock in the morning,” said Smith. “The F-16 is probably one of my favorite things, it was amazing and being able to do that helps you adapt really quickly.”

The visiting Navy students were given both F-16 and T-38 rides at the school, and outside of the school they flew gliders in Tehachapi. Altogether, the group flew 62 sorties in the gliders with each student flying twice.

The group also made trips to Naval Air Station China Lake, Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” facility in Palmdale and Scaled Composites at Mojave Air and Space Port where they saw SpaceShipTwo, WhiteKnightTwo and Proteus. Smith remarked that seeing how the private sector handles test and development was “eye-opening.” But what they really enjoyed was the opportunity to fly the simulator for SpaceShipTwo.

On Tuesday, the students from both schools gathered for a barbecue and social hour hosted by Al and Cathy Hansen at their Mojave hangar. The time gave them a chance to get to know each other better, which according to Col. Lawrence Hoffman, commandant, USAF Test Pilot School, is a key part of the experience. Each of the graduates will be a part of the international flight test community.

Lt. Commander Brandon Smith U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (right) presents Cathy Hansen with a plaque for her support of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.

“What we find over the years is that we cross paths many times again in different test programs,” said Hoffman. “Typically the graduates from the Naval Test Pilot School are testing naval aircraft and weapons systems and Air Force graduates are testing Air Force weapons systems. But, when you get together for big gatherings like the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Symposium or you’re maybe in Washington, D.C., working at the Pentagon, you’ll run into people that you have met years ago in these kinds of trips and exchanges.”

Hoffman continued that these trips are part of a broader exchange program between the USAF and the Naval Test Pilot Schools. An Air Force student attends the Naval Test Pilot School each year while a Navy or Marine student attends the USAF Test Pilot School each year. Hoffman mentioned that there is also an annual meeting between himself and his counterparts at the Naval, the French and U.K. Test Pilot Schools to compare notes about their programs. But it’s the exchange field trips like this one that really help broaden the experience of the students and reinforce what they are learning.

For example, Hoffman recalls the opportunity to fly helicopters at the Navy school, something that is scarcely done at Edwards.

“Most of us have never done that before and you’re in an environment that’s challenging. You’re over water, around trees and it’s an eye opening experience and it’s a lot of fun. You realize these flight test fundamentals you’re learning for fixed wing aircraft can be applied to rotary wing aircraft, lighter-than-air craft like a blimp and remotely piloted aircraft,” said Hoffman.

Smith noted that the Edwards flying environment is very different for their school as well.

“Edwards has so many square miles for testing. We have one restricted area that’s about 35 by 55 miles and that’s where all our testing goes on. [At Edwards] there are multiple supersonic corridors,” said Smith. “Taking data at [Patuxent River] is a lot more difficult … being out here would be amazing.”




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