Sean Roberts, an experimental test pilot for both military and civilian projects with more than 18,000 flight hours, started the National Test Pilot School (NTPS) in 1980 after receiving requests from the aircraft industry for a school that would address FAA certification requirements.
“We address both FARs and mil specs on an equal basis,” said Roberts. “NTPS trains military pilots from air forces around the world, as well as pilots from aircraft manufacturers. We have also trained all of the FAA test pilots and engineers for the past eight years.”
He said avionics systems and engineering details constitute fully 50 percent of the one-year program, with flight performance qualities comprising the other half. The academics are so rigorous that a graduate of the year-long program is eligible for a master of science in flight test and evaluation with the completion of a thesis project done outside the school.
The actual test-pilot flight training is done in a variety of aircraft and simulators, ranging from supersonic jets for high-speed maneuvers to aerobatic piston aircraft for spin training. NTPS also uses a “flying simulator” owned by Calspan in New York. The simulator is actually an airborne Learjet that has the aerodynamic models of other aircraft loaded in its flight control computer, allowing the student to simulate the controls and response of anything from an F/A-18 to a 747. A similar flight simulator is being developed in Canada for helicopter training, and will be used by NTPS for rotorcraft test-pilot training.