Flight test engineer

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A flight test engineer (FTE) is an engineer involved in the flight testing of prototype aircraft or aircraft systems.


The flight test engineer generally has overall responsibility for the planning of a specific flight test phase, which includes preparing the test plans in conjunction with other analytical and/or systems engineers, overseeing the buildup of the aircraft to the proper configuration, working with the flight test instrumentation engineer to ensure the sensors and recording systems are installed for required data parameters, and preparing the maneuver-by-maneuver plan for each test flight (enshrined typically in a higher level document called a "test plan" and then an operational document usually called the "test cards"). The FTE and the experimental test pilot are jointly responsible for the safety of the test flying. The FTE is also responsible for the overall analysis of the data acquired during a test flight. Finally, the flight test engineer will coordinate with specific analysis and/or systems engineers to write the final flight test report, documenting the results of a specific flight test phase.

The FTE may or may not fly on board the test aircraft, depending on the aircraft type or mission objectives. When not in the test aircraft, the FTE normally monitors the test in real-time via data transmitted to a special flight test data center. In this case, the FTE would be in radio contact with the test pilot and he or she, along with the ground-based team, would be providing safety of flight monitoring and real-time data analysis.

Multiple test aircraft may be required on major aircraft development flight test programs. The test activities of all test aircraft must be coordinated by a senior flight test engineer. On complex test programs, it is also common for each test aircraft to have several FTEs assigned, each with a specific area of responsibility and testing.

Often a flight test engineer will be required to come up with techniques for monitoring a specific variable or system, which requires a bespoke piece of equipment to be fabricated. Due to the specialized nature of the techniques in manufacturing and electronics involved, a flight test engineer is usually highly skilled and will have undergone in-depth training.

Education for flight test engineers[edit]

The flight test engineer may have a degree in aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or cognitive science. A bachelor's degree is generally required, and a master's degree is recommended. Many university aerospace engineering departments offer elective flight test courses for those interested in this field of engineering.

The military services have formal training programs for experimental flight test pilots and flight test engineers. These training programs may be attended by selected military or government-employed civilian pilots and engineers. Most military test pilot schools combine pilot and engineers in one class, where they work together just as they would in the real world. The United States Air Force Test Pilot School and the United States Naval Test Pilot School are two of the very selective military programs. As of 2008, all graduates of the United States Air Force Test Pilot School receive an accredited master's degree in flight test engineering from the U.S. Air Force Air University.In Asia only India has Test Pilot school called Indian Air Force Test Pilot school in Bangalore,which trains Flight Test Engineers. There are also several commercially operated civilian schools for test pilots and flight test engineers such as the International Test Pilot School located in London, Ontario, Canada or National Test Pilot School located in Mojave, California, USA. The University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma TN offers a MS degree in flight test engineering via traditional and distance education and offers short courses in flight test subjects.

While not required, many FTEs are also civilian or military rated pilots. Though the FTE doesn't actively control the aircraft during tests, this flight background is valuable in understanding flight operations.

Employment of flight test engineers[edit]

Flight test engineers are employed by large aviation manufacturers (such as Boeing, Textron Aviation (Including Cessna and Beechcraft), Bombardier Aerospace, AgustaWestland, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, Bell Helicopter, Sikorsky Aircraft, Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Aérospatiale, Mitsubishi, Piaggio Aereo or Embraer); or government research organizations, such as NASA or Qinetiq; or government certification agencies like the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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