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A test pilot is an aircraft pilot with additional training to fly and evaluate experimental, newly produced and modified aircraft with specific manoeuvres known as flight test techniques.
In the 1950s, test pilots were being killed at the rate of about one a week,[ citation needed ] but the risks have shrunk to a fraction of that due to the maturation of aircraft technology, better ground-testing and simulation of aircraft performance, fly-by-wire technology and lately, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to test experimental aircraft features. Still, piloting experimental aircraft remains more dangerous than most other types of flying.
A test pilot must be able to:
Test pilots must have an excellent knowledge of aeronautical engineering, in order to understand how and why planes are tested. They must be above-average pilots with excellent analytical skills and the ability to fly accurately whilst following a flight plan.
Test pilots can be experimental and engineering test pilots (investigating the characteristics of new types of aircraft during development) or production test pilots (the more mundane role of confirming the characteristics of new aircraft as they come off the production line); many test pilots would perform both roles during their careers. Modern test pilots often receive formal training from highly-selective military test pilot schools, although other test pilots receive training and experience from civilian institutions and/or manufacturers' test pilot development programs.
Test flying as a systematic activity started during the First World War, at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in the United Kingdom. An "Experimental Flight" was formed at the Central Flying School. During the 1920s, test flying was further developed by the RAE in the UK, and by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the United States. In the 1950s, NACA was transformed into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. During these years, as work was done into aircraft stability and handling qualities, test flying evolved towards a more qualitative scientific profession. At the insistence of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first American astronauts, the Mercury Seven, were all military test pilots, as were some of the later astronauts.
The world's oldest test pilot school is what is now called the Empire Test Pilots' School (motto "Learn to Test - Test to Learn"), at RAF Boscombe Down in the UK. There are a number of similar establishments over the world. In America, the United States Air Force Test Pilot School is located at Edwards Air Force Base, the United States Naval Test Pilot School is located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland and EPNER (Ecole du Personnel Navigant d'Essai et de Reception - "School for flight test and acceptance personnel"), the French test pilot school, is located in Istres, France. The only civilian school in the United States is the National Test Pilot School, a not-for-profit educational institute located in Mojave, California. In Russia, there is a Russian aviation industry Fedotov Test Pilot School (founded 1947)located in Zhukovsky within the Gromov Flight Research Institute.
Erich Warsitz was a German test pilot of the 1930s. He held the rank of Flight-Captain in the Luftwaffe and was selected by the Reich Air Ministry as chief test pilot at Peenemünde West. He is remembered as the first person to fly an aircraft under liquid-fueled rocket power, the Heinkel He 176, on June 20, 1939 and also the first to fly an aircraft under turbojet power, the Heinkel He 178, on August 27 the same year.
The Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket is a rocket and jet-powered research supersonic aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the United States Navy. On 20 November 1953, shortly before the 50th anniversary of powered flight, Scott Crossfield piloted the Skyrocket to Mach 2, or more than 1,290 mph (2076 km/h), the first time an aircraft had exceeded twice the speed of sound.
The Northrop X-4 Bantam was a prototype small twinjet aircraft manufactured by Northrop Corporation in 1948. It had no horizontal tail surfaces, depending instead on combined elevator and aileron control surfaces for control in pitch and roll attitudes, almost exactly in the manner of the similar-format, rocket-powered Messerschmitt Me 163 of Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe. Some aerodynamicists had proposed that eliminating the horizontal tail would also do away with stability problems at fast speeds resulting from the interaction of supersonic shock waves from the wings and the horizontal stabilizers. The idea had merit, but the flight control systems of that time prevented the X-4 from any success.
Joseph Albert Walker was an American World War II pilot, experimental physicist, NASA test pilot, and astronaut. He was one of twelve pilots who flew the North American X-15, an experimental spaceplane jointly operated by the Air Force and NASA.
Albert Scott Crossfield was an American naval officer and test pilot. In 1953, he became the first pilot to fly at twice the speed of sound. He was the first of twelve pilots who flew the North American X-15, an experimental spaceplane jointly operated by the United States Air Force and NASA.
Igor Petrovich Volk was a Russian cosmonaut and test pilot in the Soviet Union.
The Convair XF-92 was an early American delta wing aircraft. Originally conceived as a point-defence interceptor, the design was later used purely for experimental purposes. However, it led Convair to use the delta-wing on a number of designs, including the F-102 Delta Dagger, F-106 Delta Dart, B-58 Hustler, the US Navy's F2Y Sea Dart as well as the VTOL FY Pogo.
Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gromov was a Russian and Soviet military aviator, test pilot, researcher, and Hero of the Soviet Union.
John Sumter Bull, Ph.D., was an American naval officer and aviator, fighter pilot, test pilot, mechanical and aeronautical engineer, and NASA astronaut.
The United States Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS), located at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Patuxent River, Maryland, provides instruction to experienced United States Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and foreign military experimental test pilots, flight test engineers, and flight test flight officers in the processes and techniques of aircraft and systems testing and evaluation.
The Chanute Medal was established in 1902 by the Western Society of Engineers. The Chanute Medal was established by Octave Chanute a past president of the Western Society of Engineers. Three members of the Western Society of Engineers receive the Chanute Medal for best papers in civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering.
John H. Griffith was a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, one of the pilots of the Bell X-1.
The National Test Pilot School (NTPS) is the only civilian test pilot school in the United States, located in Mojave, California. It is organized as a not-for-profit educational institute under California state law and is governed by a Board of Trustees. NTPS is one of the seven test pilots schools worldwide recognized by the international Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP), giving pilot graduates of NTPS instant initial acceptance into their Society. In 2016, NTPS became the first test pilot school in the world to be certified as a Flight Test Authorised Training Organisation (ATO) by the European Aviation Safety Organization (EASA).
A flight test engineer (FTE) is an engineer involved in the flight testing of prototype aircraft or aircraft systems.
The Gromov Flight Research Institute or GFRI for short is an important Russian State Research Centre which operates aircraft test base located in Zhukovsky, 40 km south-east of Moscow. The airfield is also known as Ramenskoye air base.
EPNER is the French test pilot school, based on the Istres Le Tube Airbase, France. One of the five main test pilot schools in the western hemisphere, EPNER maintains close links with the three schools; the Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS); the United States Air Force Test Pilot School (USAFTPS) and the United States Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS).
Alexander Vasilyevich Fedotov was a Soviet test pilot who was a Hero of the Soviet Union, Honored Test Pilot of the USSR, Lenin Prize holder and Major-General of Aviation.
The Fedotov Test Pilot School or FTPS is one of two test pilot schools in Russia. The school was established in 1947 when Russia was part of the USSR and is named after Aleksandr Vasilyevich Fedotov, a test pilot who was killed in an aircraft crash in the 1980s.
Pavel Nikolaevich Vlasov is a Russian test pilot, engineer, one of the Gromov Flight Research Institute directors (2010-2017), Chief of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre and Hero of the Russian Federation.