Homebuilder's Flight Test Course

Chuck Firth

Originally published July 1996

Our featured speaker was Al Lawless, chapter member and engineer at the Mojave-based National Test Pilot School. Al briefed us on several new classes NTPS is offering to the homebuilding community. These are classes designed to assist a pilot-builder in understanding how light aircraft are tested and the expected results. He describes them as custom-tailored four or five-day sessions for builders with the purpose of improving safety and promoting knowledgeable evaluation of aircraft handling and performance.

Al is a former flight test engineer at Edwards who migrated north to NTPS at Mojave about seven years ago. He decided we were a good group to approach for feedback on the proposed courses and also as potential students. (Our reputation precedes us!) This might be a great chance for those of us who missed out on the opportunity to get the theory, data reduction techniques, and even some flying at government expense. That's right, the classes include time in aircraft with NTPS pilots demonstrating techniques.

In offering the classes, Al and NTPS are careful to point out they won't make you a test pilot. (You don't get the decoder ring and secret handshake.) The intent is more straight forward. They see the need to instill a healthy respect for the aircraft design and to give the builder some idea of the implications of changes. They also believe that a discussion of flight test lessons-learned and of appropriate test methods will lead to a pilot-builder with a technically smart approach to getting his or her aircraft in the air. After all, a couple thousand hours of garage time shouldn't be followed by a couple of hours of stupidity (and dumb luck) during taxi or first flight.

Two classes will be offered to start. One is designed to develop an understanding of stability & control, and the other to evaluate performance. A typical day at both classes will generally start with a flying session, followed by data reduction, and then a discussion of the theory behind the flight characteristics of interest. The stability and control course will include such topics as static and dynamic stability, stall/spin theory, and flight test of instrumented aircraft. The performance class will cover propellers, engines, instrument calibration, drag, weight and balance, and performance characteristics during climb, cruise, and decent.

The classes will be offered over long weekends as a four-day session or during the week for the five-day course. Classes will probably be limited to between six and twelve students to ensure good student/instructor ratios. The first sessions are planned for October of this year and will be priced at around $900 to $1100 per course. For more information contact Al at (805) 824-2977 by phone or (805) 824-2943 by fax. You can also email through NTPS@NTPS.COM.

Visit the NTPS web site at http://www.hughes-ec.com/org/ntps.


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Revised -- 27 April 1997