AF Academy teams up with Test Pilot School in new candidacy program

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There's a new partnership between the U.S. Air Force Academy and Test Pilot School, a highly-competitive, 48-week, educational opportunity for aviators, combat systems officers, remotely piloted aircraft pilots and engineers. (Courtesy photograph)

Two Air Force Academy graduates from the Class of 2019 have been nominated to attend the Air Force Test Pilot School in 2022 as part of a new training partnership between the two institutions.

Test Pilot School is a highly competitive, 48-week, educational opportunity for aviators, combat systems officers, remotely piloted aircraft pilots and engineers. Graduates of the course receive a master’s of science in flight test engineering and go on to test a variety of aerospace weapon systems for use in the Air Force.

Col. Brian Neff, head of the Academy’s electrical and computer engineering department and a TPS graduate, has served as TPS faculty and on the TPS selection boards. He said the current candidacy system occasionally suffers from a limited return on investment from its graduates. Based on their time in service, graduates are often called to serve in command positions or outside the test community after their initial, post-graduation commitment.

“We needed to reverse the trend by recruiting younger officers into the field while also eliminating the risk we were taking on by selecting relatively unknown candidates through the conventional process,” he said. “As senior faculty members, our day-to-day interactions with cadets across three or four years helps us identify candidates who might have a high potential for the community.”

Second Lieutenants Maria Carter and Abraham Eaton were selected this spring as potential engineering candidates. Unlike other engineering candidates, they will not be required to complete two years’ service in their field before attending TPS. The lieutenants will enter master’s degree programs, serve approximately eight months in a test unit at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and move directly into TPS — provided they are confirmed by the Air Force Material Command operations chief at the upcoming Test Falcon selection board.

The three-and-a-half-year model should result in a bigger return on investment for the test community while setting these officers up for success in their careers, Neff said.

The Academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, supports the initiative.

“At the Academy, we are invested in creating a closer alignment between our institution and the operational communities we serve,” Silveria said. “I’m proud to see the creative ways our faculty and staff work with other commands to provide solutions to problems with a real benefit to the entire Air Force.”

Members of the program will also be required to return to the Academy to teach, creating a beneficial cycle to future cadets that promotes innovation.

“I think this program is just another way to help expose cadets to opportunities in the Air Force,” Neff said. “The last thing I want to happen is for a cadet to come to me in their senior year and express interest in attending Test Pilot School, and their major doesn’t support that goal – that creates a much harder road for them.”

To learn more about TPS, visit their website at https://www.edwards.af.mil/Units/USAFTPS/.