Test Pilot School updates admission requirements

  • Published
  • By Leigh Anne Bierstine
  • Air Force Flight Test Center Public Affairs
Pilots, engineers and navigators applying for slots at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School here are finding some of the school's requirements have changed recently.

The biggest difference for applicants comes in the easing of experience requirements for pilots and navigators.

Beginning with this application cycle, which runs through Sept. 19, pilots wishing to apply must have flown at least 12 months as an aircraft commander in a major weapon system. This is down from 18 months in past years. Pilots must also be qualified instructor pilots in a major weapon system or have at least 750 hours total time, down from 1,000 hours previously.

For navigators interested in the school, they must be qualified instructor navigators in a major weapon system or have at least 500 hours total in the system. This experience requirement is now the same for both fighter and bomber navigators.

"With these changes, the Air Force will be able to identify those aviators who have been rapidly upgraded to instructor status in their major weapon systems," said Col. George Ka'iliwai, the school's commandant. "We can then transfer that expertise and experience into the flight-test community and ultimately into the weapons-acquisition process."

The change also helps pilots assigned to units that do not need instructor pilots thus slowing down the rate at which its members are upgraded to instructor status. Those pilots can now apply with 750 hours without a waiver.

Ka'iliwai also hopes the new experience levels will help the school to gain pilots at about the six- to seven-year career point as opposed to the current eight- to nine-year point. "Inserting new test pilots into flight-testing earlier will enable the Air Force to recoup the investment it makes in producing test pilots," he said.

Often students are candidates for Intermediate Service School and after graduation only complete one short, flight-test tour before going on to complete this professional military education requirement.

"Today our graduates are also likely go to staff assignments and may never return to flight testing," Ka'iliwai said. "With the new entry requirement, we're hoping to keep test pilots flying for a few years longer."

Lt. Col. Lionel Alford, a TPS graduate and chief of the airframe propulsions avionics and electronic warfare team for Air Force Materiel Command, has been working the revisions for AFMC, the school's major command. According to Alford, the new requirement will also give the school and the Air Force a better mix of younger aviators as well as older, more experienced pilots.

"The new experience requirements and new mix of students will not impact how the school trains future members of the flight-test community," said Ka'iliwai.

"Our students should do better with these changes, as the time between completing their engineering degrees in college and entering TPS will be shorter," he said. "Thus, their engineering skills will be sharper, since engineering concepts will be fresher in their minds."

The Air Force's test and evaluation community is also working to expand the number of acceptable Air Force Specialty Codes for applicants to the school, said Alford. Aircraft maintenance and space operations are two of the career fields that test and evaluation leadership is considering adding to the school's list of eligible AFSCs.

According to Alford, the test community is exploring more ways to incorporate the testing of space systems along with command and control systems into the TPS environment. Besides expanding the eligible career fields, the school is developing short courses geared to these increasingly important Air Force sectors.

"We have a real need to ensure that testing of these key areas like command and control have the same effective leadership and oversight that testing of aircraft systems has enjoyed," he said. "Today security in a system is almost as important as safety. We can't give up our secrets. That could even be worse than losing an aircraft."

The short courses will make additional expertise in these areas available to military and government personnel including the Air Force's operational testers. The courses could run anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the needs of those attending, as opposed to the school's traditional yearlong courses.

"Offering these short courses is one of the ways the test community can take the reigns in doing the job the Air Force needs us to do and that is to train testers for the future," said Alford.

Right now TPS has the authority to produce any course that is necessary for the needs of the Air Force on a reimbursable basis. For more information on the school or applying for its July 2003 and January 2004 classes, visit the TPS Web site.