Get to know UK's Empire Test Pilots' School - ETPS

ETPS training PC21 Gripen
Saab Gripen D fighter aircraft operated by UK's Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS).

The Empire Test Pilots’ School is a training centre for test pilots operated in Boscombe Down by the British company QinetiQ in partnership with the UK MOD. Thanks to a modern trainer aircraft fleet, it provides high-level training for the latest generation of test pilots.

Empire Test Pilots' School was founded in 1943 to provide additional special training for experienced pilots tasked with testing newly introduced aircraft. The school currently uses the PC-21, Gripen and other aircraft to train students from all over the world including the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia and USA.

The Empire Test Pilots’ School is the world’s first school for test pilots. Its motto is “Learn to test – test to learn”. Created for test pilots and flight test engineers of fixedwing and rotary-wing aircraft it is now run by the Ministry of Defence and defence contractor QinetiQ under a longterm agreement at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, England. There are fewer than ten test pilot schools in the world, the majority of which are located in the USA. Only Eppner in Istres, France, is also based in Europe.

The Empire Test Pilots’ School has trained students from 32 countries in the past 75 years, including multiple astronauts and notably Claude Nicollier, the first Swiss astronaut. Trainee backgrounds vary from flying large military transport aircraft to fighter pilots to engineers with no flying background at all.

A project to update the QinetiQ fleet began in 2011. The serviceability of the fleet was becoming difficult to guarantee and the training provided by old generation aircraft was no longer relevant. The PC-21 was chosen as backbone of the course to provide a high-performance modern military trainer capable of meeting many of the training requirements on the syllabus of a test pilot.

ETPS training PC21 Gripen

In addition to the PC-21, the military students at the Empire Test Pilots’ School also use a Saab Gripen D combat aircraft. The school has included the Swedish fighter in its test pilot training courses since 1999 and part of the course is spent in Sweden where the students experience Gripen’s advanced cockpit technology and flight characteristics.

Simulators are also used extensively to teach difficult or high risk flight test techniques such as engine failures during take-off and minimum control speeds. Boeing 777 and C-17 as well as Airbus A400M simulators as used by the Royal Air Force are examples of the types used. Industry visits to e.g. Rolls Royce, Airbus and Saab are also a part of the course and give students real-life experience of the challenges of aircraft development and flight testing.

The Empire Test Pilots’ School was recently approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to perform test flights for the test pilot rating. EASA flight test rating requirements were first published in 2011 and came into effect in 2015. The new regulation applies to all test pilots in EASA countries. They must have an EASA flight test rating to test fly EASA-certified aircraft.

Test pilot ratings allow a pilot to conduct the first flights with a new aircraft, like the PC-24, flying at faster speeds, higher altitudes or higher G values. For this rating EASA specifies a minimum of 100 hours in the air in a minimum of ten different aircraft types, with 350 hours of theoretical knowledge classroom training – including aerodynamics, engines, flight handling and systems tests. Examinations must cover all subject areas. Students must successfully complete a final in-flight test to pass the course. So far, only three pilot schools worldwide are authorised to provide EASA-certified test pilot ratings.

Source: Pilatus, QinetiQ
Images: Pilatus, Saab

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