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Test Pilot School reaches new heights

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Students in the Aerospace Vehicle Test Course experience zero gravity during a ride in the NASA KC-135 also known as the "vomit comet".  The AVTC trains students to become space flight-test engineers.  (Courtesy photo)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Students in the Aerospace Vehicle Test Course experience zero gravity during a ride in the NASA KC-135 also known as the "vomit comet". The AVTC trains students to become space flight-test engineers. (Courtesy photo)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFPN) -- The increasing push for a military space force has led Department of Defense officials to expand the Air Force envelope to include space education, with an emphasis on military applications.

The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School here has followed suit, answering DOD’s call by creating the first Aerospace Vehicle Test Course.

The four-week course for qualified engineers includes approximately 80 hours of academics, supplemented with projects, simulations, field trips and flying, said Maj. Russ Adelgren, the course director.

It covers a wide spectrum of aerospace disciplines, from the history of aerospace planes to the launch and return of the space shuttle.

"We currently have two hours of spacecraft re-entry and one hour on thermal-protection systems," Adelgren said, "but due to the recent space shuttle disaster, we added another hour to discuss lessons learned from Columbia's destruction. We are always trying to keep the course as updated as possible."

The course also offers students the unique opportunity to actually apply everything they learn, Adelgren said.

"The students receive a T-38 (Talon) and an F-16 (Fighting Falcon) ride, two glider rides and a 'vomit comet' ride (in NASA’s zero-gravity trainer)," Adelgren said.

The course includes field trips to the rocket labs and the rocket-launch vehicle operations and test complex at Edwards, the Vandenberg Spaceport at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The Micro Satellite Launch Vehicle program was a new block of instruction added. It gives the students a chance to fly an F-15 Eagle simulator, conduct a simulated launch profile and man the NASA-Dryden control room, Adelgren said.

"With this addition to the curriculum, the students were able to practice proper test discipline, while executing a test mission on a real-world project,” he said.

"My fellow classmates and I were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance for young engineers to develop into future space flight testers," said Jason Torres, an engineer from the 412th Test Wing here. "This course used both academics and applications to illustrate flight test versus atmospheric flight test. Nowhere else can one receive a year's worth of hands-on aerospace education in the span of one month."

The training was invaluable, according to 1st Lt. Damen Provost, an engineer with Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Center Detachment 12 at Kirtland AFB, N.M.

"The students represented a wide variety of Air Force specialties, bringing knowledge from the course back to their respective units,” he said.

Although the fundamental philosophy of testing is the same for aircraft or spacecraft, it is invaluable to have aerospace-vehicle experts teach this course, Adelgren said.

Therefore, not all instructors are members of the school staff, but they come from around the country to lend their aerospace expertise to the course, he said. Currently, there are about 25 teachers involved in the program, which holds courses about once every 18 months.

All students must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in aeronautical, aerospace or astronautical engineering, or have a strong background in one of these fields. Students must also be medically qualified to fly and pass a Class-III physical.

"If you are lucky enough to attend this course, you can say that you were in the right place at the right time," said Johnny Armstrong, the chief engineer and course instructor at the access to space office. "You will be a part of the exciting future of the space program, learning how to test hypersonic vehicles in support of the Air Force mission."

For more information, call Maj. Russ Adelgren at DSN 277-8882 or visit www.edwards.af.mil/tps.

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