U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School Class 13B stood proudly in the base theater June 13 as Col. Lars Hoffman, USAF TPS commandant, announced the graduates of the prestigious school.
Adding to the honor, the school celebrated its up-coming anniversary, which will mark 70 years since the school was first established at Wright Field, Ohio.
In that 70 years, the school has gone from a 12-week training program to a 48-week program graduating students with a Master of Science Degree in Flight Test Engineering. As graduates of the school, Class 13B joined nearly 3,000 alumni including over 100 general officers and more than 60 astronauts.
Class 13B included 11 experimental test pilots, seven flight test engineers, one experimental remotely piloted aircraft test pilot and one experimental test combat systems officer.
The graduates are from the United States Air Force and Marine Corps and one officer each from Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom.
To complete the course, each student endured 2,500 academic hours, 120 of which were used for in-flight training. In their final graduation exercise, students planned and executed real-world Test Management Projects, which formed the foundation for their thesis.
Test Management Project Dummy Drop was a limited evaluation of the C-12C Dummy Unloading Mechanical Platform system designed to facilitate static line dummy operations. Similar designs have been used on other platforms, but this was the first time this concept has been tested on the C-12C. This capability will provide a low cost alternative to conducting static line airdrops on the C-130 or C-17.
Project HAVE ORACLE was the latest in a continuing series of projects to develop and refine a surrogate remotely piloted aircraft test capability. Leading edge techniques were tested to accommodate the inherent delays in the remote control datalink. The capability will enhance the school’s burgeoning Test Remote Piloted Aircraft curriculum.
HAVE THRASH was flown in the NF-16D VISTA – variable stability in-flight trainer aircraft as well as a T-38C aircraft. TPS designed a flight test technique to replicate pilot induced oscillation in a safe and controlled environment called switch-induced simulated PIO. This project tested SISPIO to determine if it was a viable way of reproducing actual PIOs.
HAVE POSIT III was the first TMP to verify an automatic formation system flown in the NF-16D VISTA. The Auto Formation Controller was designed to maintain commanded position relative to a lead F-16 fighter. Data from the effort will support further automatic formation flying design requirements.
Each year at graduation, the class the class selects and awards the Outstanding Crew Chief, Top Enlisted Support Staff Member, Top Civilian Support Staff Member, Outstanding Academic Instructor and Outstanding Flying Instructor. The class also selects from alumni that graduated at least 20 years ago and made lasting and significant contributions to the aerospace test community for the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
This year’s award went to retired colonel and former NASA astronaut, Steven W. Lindsey.
“I’ve been through a lot of courses in my life and a lot of schools and there’s nothing that approaches the difficulty of the year I spent at test pilot school,” said Lindsey. “It was by far the hardest course I ever took, the most demanding, the most grueling, the longest hours, yet it was the most rewarding class I ever went through.”
Lindsey shared what he wished he knew when he left the school so many years ago. He summed it up in four laws of flight test, starting with “Never assume” when it comes to theory. The next law, “Deck anybody who ever tells you ‘it’s only software.”
The third law, “Everybody hates you [the test pilot].” Design engineers, because the test pilot will point out design inefficiencies, the program office hates you because those design changes will cost time and money, and the operational pilot because the test pilot will deliver a “poorly designed aircraft.”
“But that’s your job,” said Lindsey, to compromise between the design engineer and operational pilot.
His final law of flight test is that two test pilots will always have at least three opinions. But, he reassured the class, there are things that will help them to survive the life of a test pilot. He encouraged them to think slowly, be open to alternatives, don’t set out to prove yourself right, surround yourself with people who can expose your blind spots and offer descending opinions and guard against technical arrogance.
But above all, he encouraged the graduates to remember that, “It’s not so much what individual things you do, but what you achieve as a team that really matters.”
“It’s really meaningful to get to work with others towards a common goal,” said Lindsey. “Take pride in doing your job well, work hard to make your ideas take shape and reality and help build something of lasting value.”
Class leader, Maj. Clifton Bell, B-52 and B-2 multi pilot, was next to address the “exceptional group of officers” with whom he graduated.
“As the 139th graduating class we are honored to be deemed worthy to wear the patch that represents 70 years of excellence,” said Bell.
Bell shared that the class represented four nations and five services including four graduates of various weapons schools, 14 masters degrees and two doctorate degrees.
“Throughout the year we were afforded many opportunities including flights in more than 20 aircraft ranging from jet and propeller, fixed and rotary wing, powered and unpowered, land and water, single and multi-engine as well as domestic and foreign aircraft, a one-of-a-kind education that has given us the experience and confidence to succeed in our future responsibilities,” said Bell.
“As we integrate into the test community and are asked to accomplish test programs within a fiscally constrained environment with continually diminishing resources, I ask that you remember that the weapons systems that we test and determine suitability on today are the same weapons systems that our children will take to war tomorrow,” said Bell. “It is our responsibility to ensure that we get it right.”
As each graduate crossed the stage as they received the graduate plaque from TPS, the diploma from Air University, the graduate patch and the graduate coin.
Congratulations to Class 13B!
Maj. Clifton Bell, B-52/B-2 multi pilot
Maj. Jeffrey Dean, FA-18 fighter pilot (USMC)
Capt. Jeff Dennison, engineer
Capt. Paul Dolce, engineer
Capt. Josh Duckett, engineer
Capt. Corey Florendo, F-16 fighter pilot
Maj. Adam Hafez, F-16 fighter pilot
Capt. Phil Hartnett, engineer
Capt. Luke Haywas, A-10 fighter pilot
Maj. Jameel Janjua, fighter pilot (Canada) Liethen-Tittle Award
Flight Lt. Marija Jovanovich, multi pilot (Australia)
Maj. Nicholas LaPlant, KC-135 multi pilot Aaron C. “C-Dot” George Award
Capt. Kenny LeBay, engineer
Sqn. Ldr. James McMeeking, fighter pilot (United Kingdom)
Capt. Christopher Nations, F-16 fighter pilot Onizuka Prop Wash Award
Capt. Daniel Nelson, engineer R.L. Jones Award
Capt. Rob Newton, AC-130 Combat Systems officer
1st Lt. Nick Olson, engineer
Maj. Jack Rhodes, MQ-1/9 remotely piloted aircraft
Capt. Travis Vance, KC-135 multi pilot