Empowering Teams with On-Demand Flight Test Training

15 April 2023

Safer development, accelerated efficiency, and effective products 

Chris is an experienced aerospace leader and flight test professional. He was just hired into a new role at the front of a large team, with increased responsibility for the development and test of new aerospace systems. The group that he leads – and much larger organization they interface with – are geographically scattered over large distances and work on a variety of different projects. Major Department of Defense Test RangesAs Chris meets his team, he learns that some have backgrounds in aerospace, but most were recruited from other high-tech industries, such as consumer electronics and automotive engineering. Just a few have any flight test experience from previous employers, and he is the only one with formal flight test training at a test pilot school. While his team is talented and enthusiastic, the strength of their diverse backgrounds is also causing divergent processes and some “near miss” safety events. Chris is concerned that test planning oversights or miscommunication will lead to expensive redesigns late in the development process, and that inconsistent risk management processes may lead to a regrettable mishap. He quickly realizes that his primary challenges will be building a professional flight test culture and enabling his team with the right tools and processes. Chris wants to get his team aligned with clear priorities and focused communication systems. He knows the value of his own test pilot school training, and wants to empower his team with the same perspectives, processes, and tools he learned. How can Chris efficiently invest in his large, diverse, and geographically scattered team to become a professional flight test organization?

Value Stream Investment for Flight Test Training

The Lean Aerospace Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology declared that "improvements upstream in the systems engineering value stream would make a far greater impact on the efficiency of a flight test program." According to the NATO Research and Technology Organization, “[f]light test is at the core of what organizations must do in order to validate the operation and systems on an aircraft.” It can be difficult to recruit career flight testers or test pilot school graduates, since recognized test pilot schools worldwide produce only around 100 per year. These “long-course” graduates are generally unavailable to immediately hire, since their recent training was employer-funded at the cost of a year’s sponsorship and tuition well over $1M USD. One alternative to recruiting seasoned flight testers is “on the job training”, to learn as you build. Unfortunately, this informal approach costs productivity with increased oversight, magnifies opportunities for mistakes with divided attention, and at worst can create bad habits from invalid assumptions or tribal knowledge. Investing in flight test training directly addresses the aerospace engineering value stream, accelerating development efficiency and improving product performance to the customer. Trained flight test teams enable both established and start-up developers to minimize recursive design delays and avoid costly disasters. National Test Pilot School provides world-class flight instruction, but delivered in-person and at high costNational Test Pilot School provides world-class flight instruction, but delivered in-person and at high costTrained flight testers can quickly find your blind spots – things you should be measuring but don't have a plan to measure, factors that should be controlled but were previously undefined, and unmitigated hazards that could amplify residual risk during development. 

On-Demand Flight Test Training 

Daedalus Aerospace, LLC provides on-demand courses for flight test engineers, crew members, program managers, and instrumentation engineers. Our courses communicate contemporary flight test and risk management concepts taught by premier test pilot schools around the world. Daedalus Aerospace courses are taught by test pilot school graduates and career flight test professionals, including alumni and former staff instructors at the US Air Force Test Pilot School. The on-demand training format is ideal for professionals already contributing to a product team, since travel costs and schedule disruptions are eliminated. Current course offerings include “Flight Test 101” and “Flight Test Risk Management”, and “Flight Test Data Analytics”, with upcoming course releases including  “Test Plan Authorship and Review”, plus “Crew Resource Management for Flight Test”.

Flight Test 101” by Daedalus Aerospace transforms engineers and project managers into flight test team members, focused on efficient development of successful products in elevated risk environments. Students learn key strategies for test planning, risk management, and team structure in flight test programs. The 90-minute short course distills the fundamental concepts for professional flight test teams and includes valuable tools and references for download. 

Flight Test Risk Management” by Daedalus Aerospace is a complete course in test safety planning, focused on authoring test-specific hazard analyses, development of risk mitigations, and comprehensive risk assessment. The lessons teach a systematic approach based on FAA Order 4040.26, USAF Test Center Instruction 91-202, and the NAVAIR Integrated Systems Evaluation, Experimentation and Test Handbook. Student exercises provide guided practice to analyze planned tests for relevant hazards and write effective risk mitigations. The course is essential for aerospace executives, flight test team members, and safety practitioners. 

The “Flight Test Data Analytics” series by Daedalus Aerospace teaches practical aerospace applications with included open-source Python tools for rapid data transformation and visualization. The example data sets give students guided practice with aircraft dynamics recorded during flight test techniques, and are applicable to testing flight sciences, avionics, sensor integration, and much more. 

Flight test is more than a job title, but is a methodology that can be learned and put into practice. As a flight test professional, Chris knew that his people are powered by the strength of their training, so he enabled his team with flight test training from Daedalus Aerospace. Flight test training is not a cost, but a program investment that is multiplied by trained team members. Trained flight testers enable successful development of aerospace systems, on accelerated timelines, to deliver products with greater efficiency and confidence. 

About the Author

Instructor Test Pilot

David Kern

David Kern is a graduate of the US Air Force Test Pilot School, with experience planning and flying hundreds of flight test missions for civil aircraft certification and military projects. He is an Associate Fellow with the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and Member of the Society of Flight Test Engineers. In his USAF career, he was the USAF F-16 project test pilot for the Collier Trophy-winning Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS) and served as Instructor Test Pilot and Director of Operations at the USAF Test Pilot School, teaching all parts of the multi-engine and fighter curricula. In civil flight test, he served as a flight test pilot for the Aircraft Certification Service with the Federal Aviation Administration, and is currently a Flight Test Captain for a major airline. He holds a Master of Science in Flight Test Engineering and B.Sci. Electrical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. He also holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate with eight type ratings, is an active Certified Flight Instructor for instrument conditions, and has logged piloting time at the flight controls of over 80 different types of aircraft. His publications include "Flight Test Techniques for Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar", "Accelerated Development of Flight Tested Sensors and Systems", and “Introduction to Fly-by-Wire Flight Control Systems: The professional pilot’s guide to understanding modern aircraft controls.”