National Test Pilot School
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. The other six schools that receive this recognition are military or military-sponsored schools.
The National Test Pilot School was initially conceived to service the needs of aerospace manufacturers for qualified flight test pilots and flight test engineers. Prior to the formation of NTPS, aerospace manufacturers had only two options: to either hire ex-military personnel who had formal flight test training, or to use on-the-job training programs to develop in-house test pilots and engineers.
The NTPS grew out of a successful series of introductory flight test courses taught for military test organizations in the United States and Canada. Using an instrumented DeHavilland Dove (DH-104), introductory, two-week performance and flying qualities flight test courses were taught for Edwards AFB, California; Patuxent River NAS, Maryland; Eglin AFB, Florida; the Naval Post-Graduate School, California; Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; and the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment, Cold Lake, Canada. The success of these courses led to opportunities to teach broader content flight test courses abroad. The school was formally established as a not-for-profit educational institute in the state of California in April 1981. The initial years of the school consisted of teaching introductory courses within the United States, mainly for military organizations, and teaching longer courses abroad (in Israel, Taiwan, Brazil and South Africa) using customer aircraft. By 1986, the decision was made to construct a large hangar and classroom complex in Mojave, California. Over the ensuing years more flight test training was done in Mojave with a growing fleet of aircraft, rather than at customer locations. Today the school trains 20-25 students in year-long courses with approximately 200 students attending one of several short courses each year.
The principal course taught at the NTPS is the Professional Course. It is a one-year long course covering performance, flying qualities and avionics systems. Both test pilots and flight test engineers are trained. Portions of the course are specifically tailored for fixed or rotary wing pilots and engineers. Sub-sets of the professional course, taught in conjunction with professional course students, are offered routinely:
- Customers can send students to either the Performance and Flying Qualities (P&FQ) portion, of the year-long course, or to the Systems portion, each being approximately six months in length.
- The core portion of the P&FQ curriculum is also offered as a stand-alone course of 16–18 weeks duration.
- Within the entire professional course the content is divided into modules, nominally three weeks in duration which can be taken for academic credit.
In addition to the Professional Course the school has nine regularly-scheduled short courses of two to six weeks duration. These include introductory courses in fixed and rotary wing P&FQ, avionics systems testing, operational test and evaluation, civil certification courses, night vision systems, production flight testing, and a pre-test pilot school course designed as a preparatory course for students planning to attend the challenging twelve-month course.
The NTPS Professional Course curriculum initially followed the format and flow of the course taught at the US Air Force Test Pilot School. The content was divided among three major components: performance, flying qualities and systems flight testing with the flow of the course always was executed in that sequence. Due to customer feedback that content and sequence were changed in 1999. The majority of the Professional Course students came from foreign military organizations. These organizations generally had need for testing modifications to aircraft rather than testing of entirely new types of aircraft. As a consequence, avionics systems testing became more important and NTPS essentially broke the course into two major components: 1) performance and flying qualities testing, and 2) avionic systems testing. A realization that one component did not, by itself, prepare students for the other component, a course flow was adopted that allowed students to take either half first, or to only take the half that was most relevant to the sponsoring organization. This school schedules avionic systems always in the first half of the year and P&FQ in the second half. With an introductory module preceding each six month segment students can join a year-long course either in January or July and carry through the entire course or simply stay for the chosen segment. A positive outcome of this approach is that every class has a combination of junior and senior students working together.
In 1995, the NTPS was approved by the State of California to award master’s degrees in Flight Test and Evaluation. Since 2004, graduates meeting all of the requirements have been eligible for an accredited Master of Science degree in Flight Test Engineering. This degree is accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Only one other test pilot school awards Master’s degrees: the US Air Force Test Pilot School, done in conjunction with USAF Air University.
The NTPS staff is highly experienced, both in flight testing and in instructing. There are 15 full-time instructors and another 10 part-time, contract instructors. The typical instructor is a retired military officer, a graduate of a formal test pilot school, has a master’s degree, with over 15 years of flight test experience and 7+ years instructing experience with 5–10 years employment at the NTPS. Approximately half of the staff is US natural citizens and half are international. The international backgrounds include Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Israel, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The President and CEO of the school is Allen L. Peterson. The Vice-president and Director of the school is Gregory V. Lewis. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees is Tom Morgenfeld.
The NTPS routinely uses a fleet of 34 aircraft (23 different types) located at the school’s campus at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California. Seven of the aircraft are owned by the school and the rest are supplied by an adjacent contractor, Flight Research, Inc. The 23 different types are:
- Aermacchi MB-326 Impala
- Beechcraft Bonanza (BE-35)
- Beechcraft Duchess (BE-76)
- Bell OH-58 Kiowa
- Bell UH-1N Twin Huey
- Cessna 150
- Cessna 152
- Cessna 172 Skyhawk
- Cessna 182 Skylane
- Cessna 441 Conquest
- Cirrus SR22
- Diamond DA-42 Twinstar
- de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk
- Douglas DC-3 Turbo
- Gippsland GA8 Airvan
- Hughes 500
- MBB BO-105
- NDN Firecracker
- North American Sabreliner
- Northop T-38 Talon
- Piper PA-34 Seneca II
- Slingsby T67 Firefly
- Swearingen Merlin III
Additionally, the school leases other, outside aircraft as needed. Professional Course student test pilots typically fly 24 different types of aircraft during their one year program, including four one-time qualitative evaluations in non-school aircraft after the Performance and Flying Qualities phase. All Professional course students get a final project in an unfamiliar aircraft at the end of their course as a graduation exercise and capstone project for their Master’s degree.
Students who have attended the Professional Course or subsets of the full course at NTPS include pilots and engineers from more than 29 different organizations, including:
- American Eurocopter
- Augusta Aerospace Corporation
- Australian Army
- Belgian Ministry of Defence
- British Ministry of Defence
- Civil Aviation Administration of China
- Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China
- European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS)
- Eurocopter Group
- German Aerospace Center (DLR)
- German Military (BWB)
- Indonesian Aerospace
- Israeli Air Force
- Israeli Aircraft Industries
- Italian Air Force
- Korean Aerospace Industries
- Pilatus Aircraft Company
- Portuguese Air Force
- Republic of Korea Air Force
- Royal Australian Air Force
- Royal Canadian Air Force
- Royal Danish Air Force
- Royal Malaysian Air Force
- Royal Thai Air Force
- Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
- Singapore Technologies Aerospace
- Taiwan Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation
- United Arab Emirates Presidential Guard Command
Students attending courses other than the Professional Course come from hundreds of different organizations, including:
- Civil certification agencies worldwide (US FAA and civil aviation authorities from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Chile, China, Japan, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea and Switzerland)
- Other governmental agencies (US Customs and Border Patrol, Finnish Border Guards)
- Aerospace manufacturers (Airbus, Beechcraft, Bell Helicopters, Bombardier, Cessna, Cirrus Aircraft, Embraer, Korean Aerospace Industries, Mitsubishi, Northop-Grumman)
- US military organizations (Air Force, Navy, Army)
- Empire Test Pilots' School
- U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School
- United States Naval Test Pilot School