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Shortly before Christmas, about 120 test pilots and flight test engineers flocked to London, Ont., to talk turkey at the 8th Annual Flight Test Seminar.
Hosted by International Test Pilots School (ITPS) and presented in partnership with the Society of Flight Test Engineers (SFTE), the Dec. 12-13 event brought together leading members of the global flight test profession to discuss best practices and share experiences.
“It’s very important to bring flight test people together because we’re very much based on learning from each other and things that have happened,” said James Sergeant, SFTE president and test and evaluation manager of the X-59 QueSST program at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works in Palmdale, Calif.
“We learn from each other so we don’t make the same mistakes; we learn through presentations and interactions.”
Sergeant, who has worked in flight testing for 36 years, said he enjoys coming to ITPS for the annual Flight Test Seminar.
“ITPS does a great job educating flight test engineers and test pilots from around the world,” he said. “They provide a great basic education in what we do in flight test; [their students] have generally been in aviation for a while, but they’re coming in to learn specifically about flight testing methods and techniques.”
Presentations in the ITPS hangar included updates on several high-profile aircraft programs, including Lockheed Martin F-35 high angle of attack test results, a Bell V-280 Valor flight test synopsis, and an update on Airbus’s Beluga freighter development.
In addition to flight test presentations, the December event also marked the grand opening of ITPS’s new 27,000-square-foot hangar and upgraded facilities at London International Airport (CYXU).
The school — which attracts an international clientele from organizations such as Belgian Defence, China’s COMAC, the Turkish Air Force, the German Armed Forces, and more — is the vision of its president Giorgio Clementi, who acquired the business in 1996. In 2005, it moved to London when Clementi took a job as head of flight test for Diamond Aircraft’s ill-fated D-Jet program.
Today, ITPS is one of only eight recognized test pilot schools in the world.
“We train experienced pilots and engineers and make them into experimental test pilots who take new aircraft and fly them for the first time and certify them,” Clementi told Skies.
He explained the roots of the Flight Test Seminar: “Early on, when we started training test pilots and engineers, I wanted prominent members of the flight test community to come see for themselves what we were doing and the quality of our graduates. One way to do that is the students have a final project, and as part of that project they evaluate an unfamiliar aircraft and prepare a report and deliver an oral presentation to instructors, staff and guests. It started out fairly small.
“Then, it occurred to me that the guests had a few things to say about flight testing. It has steadily grown and right now it’s probably the largest flight test related event in Canada.”
He said the main objective remains the sharing of experiences.
“Flight testing is a high-risk profession; our job is to manage risk. By sharing experiences and lessons we have learned in various programs, we have improved the flight safety of other test programs and ensure success,” said Clementi. “We share knowledge, and if we make a mistake, we can learn from it and pass that on.”
Keynote speaker Giuseppe Afruni agreed. As the chief test pilot and head of the flight test department at Leonardo Helicopters, Afruni has amassed more than 25 years of flight test experience. He spoke at the graduation ceremony on Dec. 13 to recognize ITPS’s eight most recent graduates.
“I have the honour to be the speaker at the graduation of the class, and the things I will tell them is that flying for testing is a totally different way to fly,” he told Skies on Dec. 12.
“Testing brings you to another world of flying. Flying by itself is dangerous because we are not built to fly. But when you do it for testing, you do it a totally different way. Testing means we explore what is unknown.”
ITPS student Capt Tolga Sezer of the Turkish Air Force is about halfway through his one-year flight test graduate course. As a pilot on an upgraded McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom — still the only heavy fighter in Turkey’s air force — Sezer is soaking up all kinds of lessons during his year in Canada.
“I think this course is not easy; it should not be easy, but I’m really happy to be in here. It’s really useful for us; really different from other schools, and it is one of the best options and that’s why we chose this school.”
In addition to flying in ITPS’s 10 different types of aircraft, Sezer said the Flight Test Seminar is a valuable chance to learn from experts who are among the best in the business.
“This kind of event is actually really important, especially as a student,” he commented. “It’s a really good opportunity to meet new people from different countries, and [learn about] subjects that are more useful to me as a fighter. They are talking about the F-35, high angle of attack systems, that kind of thing. It’s not easy to find that kind of information. Sometimes you can’t find solutions in books, so it’s a really good opportunity.”
What’s the main lesson to be learned at ITPS’s annual industry event? Leonardo Helicopters’ Afruni offered this piece of advice to the school’s new graduates:
“The best advice I can give to the new tester now coming out of school is to be ready for the unexpected. You can plan the program and plan the test; you can do a risk analysis, but we are testing the unknown — so always be prepared.”