This page is my collection of information related to test piloting. Please email if you have recommended additions.
Disclaimer: In no way do I claim to be an expert test pilot. I have several years in the world of test piloting and continue to learn a lot about what it takes to be a good test pilot. I have not had the pleasure of attending a formal test pilot school. I have been learning on the job. Thankfully I have some excellent mentors to help me along the way. With that, I have done first flights, phase one flight testing of experimental airplanes, all the way to signing off the airplane for completion of phase 1, experimental flight testing, and certification flight testing.
Test pilot work is not as much of the constant high risk flying that there was during the transition to the jet age. That is what we see in the movies and such because it is exciting and easy to dramatize. A lot of test pilot work is mundane. That does not mean there is not plenty of risk though. There are many tests that carry high risk and they need to be recognized and thoroughly planned for in order to minimize risk as much as possible. There are many factors that come into play: Type of aircraft, type of testing to be done, program goals, funding, et cetera.
For those who wish to do the initial flights and other test flights on their homebuilt or kit (E-AB) airplanes, there is much to consider if you wish to do it safely. Looking at the accident statistics related to these activities demonstrates that many builders most likely do not have the proper skills and/or decision-making ability to do initial flights on their aircraft safely. I really hope that this will change. It takes an understanding of how to use risk management to address the dangers of testing the unknown, a proper assessment of ones skills, and not letting one’s ego get the best of them.
Here are my thoughts on what skills and knowledge a pilot should possess if they wish to SAFELY take on the task of making first flights/test flights in a new aircraft:
- Proficiency: Have flown a sufficient number of hours in the past several months and the past 15 days to be comfortable and have very good performance flying in all phases of flight.
- Have completed Upset Prevention and Recovery Training or refresher training within the last 18 months (in the last 12 months would be better). This training should include spins.
- Have an excellent understanding of basic aerodynamics and how to apply that knowledge to flight testing and emergency maneuvering.
- Be well versed and practiced in emergency maneuvering, e.g. do you know what to do if you have a flight control failure, engine failure, etc. during any phase of flight.
- Know how to contingency plan for any foreseeable failure that could happen.
- Know what to look for in the build of the aircraft that could be an issue in flight.
- Be able to fly precisely and report accurately on the performance characteristics of the aircraft.
- Use a set of methodical test cards for working up to a first flight and beyond.
- This is not a complete list but a good start.
A builder-owner really should put their ego aside and get a pro to do the initial flights on their aircraft if he/she does not have the required skills/experience for a phase 1 flight program. Beliefs such as, “The airplane is a well tested kit plane so it will be fine”, is the type of ego problem or lack of understanding that gets people killed, all too often.
You can see the GA mishaps rate with experimental comparisons here GA accident rate and experimental aircraft.
Also see Specialized Aero Works’ (my company) info sheet on UPRT which has more statistics SAW UPRT for EA-B.
See my Experimental Aircraft page for more resources
Be sure to checkout the resources that the EAA and FAA provide on flight testing of homebuilt aircraft. A great resource the EAA provides is the EAA Flight Test Manual and Test Cards. Here is a link to the manual: EAA Flight Test Manual and test Cards
I am available for Phase 1 and other flight testing. If I am unavailable, or not the right person for the airplane, I probably know someone who is.
Caution: Just because someone says or is a test pilot does not mean they are a great pilot or know what they are talking about, or maybe their decision-making skills are not so great. I have seen examples of less than desirable actions by ‘test pilots’ out there on the internet.
The Convergent Dialogs This video talks about a Canadair Challenger 600 crash in Mojave during flight test.
A Test Pilot Spins Very interesting article