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FLIGHT TEST ENGINEERs AT CONINGSBY

FLIGHT TEST ENGINEERS (FTEs) ARE A COMMON SIGHT AT MOD BOSCOMBE DOWN, AND NOW THE RAF IS TRAINING IT’S OWN ORG ANIC CADRE OF FTEs. THE FIRST FTE IS NOW ESTABLISHED AT RAF CONINGSBY, BUT WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Much is documented and known about Test Pilots and their role within the Test & Evaluation (T&E) community; however, very little is known about FTEs, and their course of qualification that runs alongside the Test Pilot course. The role of the FTE is widely understood by our civil counterparts but the RAF is only just beginning to employ people in these roles. The course teaches of the importance of working as a crew and the need to utilise specialist analytical skills to supplement the Test Pilot’s qualitative feel of an aircraft with quantitative data.

FTEs form an important part of the trials process and are a key member of the trials team with the ability to initiate a trials request, develop a test plan, de-risk an event, conduct the trial as a crew member, analyse data, conclude, recommend and report on the trial. In addition to this, the Class A course qualifies individuals to conduct flight test outside of the cleared flight envelope of the aircraft through a demanding study of  aerodynamics, aircraft performance and stability & control.

So what does the FTE role entail?
RAF FTE’s are currently employed on two T&E units, 206(R) Sqn at MoD Boscombe Down to test the multi-engine fleet and, as of Jan 14 on 41(R) TES to supplement the Trials Management role in order to operationally assess and develop the capability of Typhoon. The role builds upon the knowledge taught during the FTE course, in order to plan, test, evaluate and report on in support of delivering capability to the front line Squadrons. Typhoon is leading the way in a number of areas and it is the role of the TES to ensure that the testing help develop both our Fast Jet aircraft systems in an operationally representative way – and to provide advice to the front line as to the capability whilst informing industry of shortcomings and areas to focus future efforts.

Sounds interesting, tell me more about the course…
Empire Test Pilot School (ETPS) was established in 1943 and solely trained Test Pilots until 1974 when the first FTE course was run. Since 1974, 37 FTE courses have graduated ETPS. Applicants are invited to apply through an advertisement on the Manning website, before being subjected to an initial sift to identify potential candidates for selection. The interview phase consists of one and a half days of exams and a variety of interviews. Subjects tested include aerodynamics, stability & control & aircraft systems in front of four members of the staff. Finally, the individual is interviewed by people including the RAF Chief Test Pilot and the Commanding officer of ETPS, who drill down on the individuals knowledge the roles that the individual is likely to fulfil on completion of the course and how QinetiQ and the MOD work together.

What about the flying on the course? Its a FLIGHT test engineer course isn’t it?
An average of 90 flying hours are gained in approximately 20 different aircraft types; the core aircraft being the Alpha Jet, Hawk, Tucano, King Air and the Avro RJ100. However, to consolidate elements of the course, students are exposed to unfamiliar airframes to broaden experience, for example the Saab Gripen is used to demonstrate 4th generation High Order Flight Controls. The course concludes with the Preview Assessment in which pilot and FTE teams assess an unknown aircraft for a specific role – this could be assessing an F18 Super Hornet, F16, Mirage 2000 or any number of aircraft. The assessment is to cover all aspects of the course material and is conducted over a strenuous 6 week period in which teams have 2 weeks to plan, 2 weeks to conduct testing and 2 weeks to compile a report of approximately 240 pages. Finally, the students must present to a full auditorium of Subject Matter Experts for an hour, including questions.

That ’s a lot of hard work, what does it provide at the end
On successful completion all students are presented with their qualifications and sent to their Test and Evaluation Units. For an Engineering Officer, the post that you are assigned after graduation allows the you to  broaden and gain exposure to airborne operations, operate within the A3 environment, utilise project management techniques and risk management strategies to aid in the delivery of cutting edge capability. All of the skills learnt and developed as an FTE are transferable to the A4/J4 environment on return to mainstream engineering and add a string to your bow that few in the RAF have the opportunity to experience.

It is an immensely rewarding skill set to gain but incredibly demanding qualification to achieve. In the words of the ETPS instructors on day 1, ‘Remember you volunteered for this’. A mantra that was most definitely  required at 0100 when there was still data to be analysed and a report to write that was due at 0800 the next day… a perfect preparation for life on 41 TES at Coningsby!