The world of flight testing both military and civil, is one which is somewhat set apart from the more mainstream aviation disciplines, yet it is one without which those engaged in the latter would have nothing to fly. The practitioners of these ‘dark arts’ are also something of a breed apart although, almost without exception, they have started their careers as operational aircrew, military or civil. The title ‘test pilot’ evokes images of the air shows of the early post-war years, when spectators could expect to see more than one new type never previously seen in public, flown by daring pioneers whose chances of completing a career in this hazardous field without serious incident or worse seemed alarmingly small. MS&T's Dim Jones reports.
Test and Evaluation (T&E) flying today is a very different business, but no less vital to the aircraft industry and its customers. Modern aircraft differ from their predecessors in being much safer and easier to fly, but also far more complex. Modelling and simulation have also helped to ensure that aircraft and systems have been rigorously tested on the ground before being committed to the air. Nevertheless, T&E flying remains a specialised and demanding occupation, and one which requires a particular kind of training. Around the world, there are several test flying schools. Eight schools are fully accredited by both the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) and the Society of Flight Test Engineers (SFTE). However, only four are Approved Training Organizations (ATO) by the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) for the training of civil test pilots. The International Test Pilots School Canada (ITPS Canada), based at London International Airport, Ontario is the only ATO for Flight Test Training in Canada.
ITPS originated at Cranfield in the UK in 1986 and, after moves to Woodford, and Coventry, was bought in 1996 by the then Managing Director, now President and CEO, Giorgio Clementi, and migrated to Canada in 2001, first to Cold Lake, Alberta and, in 2009, to its present home in Ontario. After operating successfully for over a decade, ITPS in 2019 invested in a new, purpose-built facility that includes a 27,000ft2 hangar, with 10,000ft2 of classroom and simulator facilities attached. ITPS owns a large and eclectic fleet of aircraft, currently numbering 18. The fixed-wing (FW) fleet comprises: 3 Hunter T-7/75 (side-by-side trainer variant of the Hawker Hunter fighter); 5 Aerovodochody L-39C Albatros and 3 Aerovodochody L-29 Delfin (tandem jet trainers of Czech origin); one Beechcraft B60 Duke (twin-piston GA aircraft); one Cirrus SR22 single-piston light aircraft; one Grumman HU-16 Albatross (twin-piston amphibian); one IAR 823 Brasov (single-piston side-by-side trainer of Romanian design). Three twin-engine bizjets are regularly leased from FlightPath Charter and operated with an ITPS type-rated captain by ITP. These include, a Bombardier Challenger 601 and the lighter Embraer Phenom 100 and 300. Diamond DA-20 and -42 aircraft are also hired-in as required and other useful or interesting aircraft. For rotary-wing (RW) flying, the school operates an MBB Bo-105M twin-turboshaft, and a Bell 206 Jet Ranger; the most recent addition is a Sikorsky S76+.
The ITPS Headquarters, London International Airport, Ontario opened in 2009. Image credit: ITPS Canada
Significant modification work has been carried out to render the fleet ideal for the School’s training requirements. ITPS has successfully raised funding for two key technology projects from Canadian government agencies. One of the Hunters is currently undergoing an extensive Genesys Systems-based cockpit upgrade, with a second to follow under the 5STA project (5th gen. Surrogate Training Aircraft) and the Advanced Controls Evaluator (ACE). 5STA replicates fifth generation fighter cockpit featuring an L3 PANTHR Large Area Avionic Display on the evaluating pilot side, plus HOTAS and Thales Scorpion HMD for both pilots. The ACE L-39 features a fly-by-wire system with full mechanical back up and the ability to modify the aircraft flying qualities in flight, an aspect of the flying qualities testing curriculum ITPS plans to expand to encompass the entire flying qualities phase. The Live Virtual Constructive training (LVCT) component is being provided by a US supplier, and features simulated radar and weapons. This will be linked to the ITPS control room where, as a first step, staff will be able to generate targets and threats and track the progress of the mission; thereafter, the plan is to network it to the simulator.
Left: ITPS President Giorgio Clementi has over 24 years’ experience training test pilots and flight test engineers and in designing and managing military training programs. Image credit: ITPS Canada
The cockpits of the L-39Cs have all undergone an avionics upgrade programme, designed and implemented in-house by the ITPS engineering and maintenance departments. This includes large full-colour touch-screen displays and Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) switchery; proposals for Head-Up Displays (HUD) are currently being evaluated, and HMD will also be fitted. The displays portion of the project is complete, and the focus will now switch to the L-29s, which are also fitted with Curtiss-Wright KAM 500 Data Acquisition Units (DAU). These aircraft are used for flight test training, covering the whole spectrum of performance, flying qualities and avionics systems flight testing. They have proven extremely versatile and instructive, particularly for the spin testing phase of the flying qualities syllabus. One is fully instrumented for flutter flight testing, an exercise that uses the full telemetry capability and has proven popular and challenging for students. All owned aircraft are fitted with some degree of Flight Test Instrumentation (FTI), and two jets and one helicopter with telemetry.
Live flying is backed up by extensive use of synthetic training (ST) devices. ITPS owns a number of simulators located at the London facility, including a fighter-type simulator featuring a semi-dome and high-definition six-channel projection system. There is also a B787-based device, featuring the full functional avionics suite, and an engineering simulator based on a F-35-type cockpit, incorporating a large area avionics display. This device allows alteration of key derivatives to modify flying qualities or flight control laws, and enables student exercises to evaluate and optimise the aircraft handling qualities for specific mission tasks. Additionally, ITPS has, since 2009, had a contract with the CAE Toronto Training Centre for the use of their full motion simulators, which are employed for aspects of the training.
Flexibility and Growth
ITPS provides a variety of long and short courses to suit all customer requirements, all with FW or RW specialisation, Test Pilot (TP) and Flight Test Engineer (FTE) options and, where appropriate, military or civil focus. The Graduate course, lasting 50 weeks, prepares trainees for employment in experimental flight test posts, and is EASA Cat-1 compliant. The course comprises study of, and practice in: Aircraft Performance; Aircraft Flight Control Systems; Digital Flight Control Systems Design and Certification; Aircraft Flying Qualities; Avionics and Human Machine Interface; Aircraft Powerplant and Systems; and Aircraft Structures and Loads. This involves more than 350 hours of lectures and over 110 flight hours. For the variable stability module of the Flight Control Systems and Flying Qualities testing, currently flying time is rented on two variable-stability aircraft, Calspan’s Lear 25 for FW, and the Canadian National Research Council’s Bell 212 for RW. Separate collaborative arrangements are made for flying time on other aircraft, both military and civil. During the 50 weeks of a long course, a pilot student can expect to fly not less than 16 types, and usually around 20.
The Diploma TP and FTE courses, which are EASA Cat-2 compliant, last 20 weeks, and involve in excess of 150 hours of lectures and 50+ flight hours on a minimum of 8 types. There are civil and military variants: the civil course is designed for civil industry pilots and engineers who, upon graduation, will be employed in civil aircraft flight-tests within an already cleared envelope or will participate as crew in Part 25 Transport Category aircraft experimental flight tests. Graduates also qualify for CAT-1 test pilot rating for Part 23 light aircraft. The military course is aimed at pilots and engineers who upon graduation will be employed in military aircraft Operational Test & Evaluation, Stores Certification and Weapons testing, or will participate as crew in multi-crew aircraft experimental flight tests. A 28-week Diploma Avionics course, preparing military pilots and engineers for employment in military avionic systems flight-tests, Stores Certification and Weapons testing, includes 150 hours of academics and 50+ flight hours on 10 types, while there are Certificate short courses for civil or military TPs and FTEs, and a military Avionics Certificate course. A 22-week FTI course provides training for engineers and technicians in aircraft flight test instrumentation including sensors, data acquisition, recording and telemetry. Lastly, ITPS offers cost-effective flight test training for operational pilots and engineers who will be involved in the testing of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). The 5-week module includes practical test flying and UAS systems evaluation and can be standalone or integrated into the Graduate course.
The Hunters are currently undergoing extensive upgrades. Image credit: ITPS Canada
A key reason for ITPS’s success is a focus on providing bespoke solutions to the customer’s requirements; this may include modifying a course to include, or provide added emphasis on, specialist areas of flight testing, provide the training on-site, or develop an entirely new training module for the client. Central to the provision of these courses is the instructional staff. The ITPS permanent staff strength is 53 and growing, and this includes 16 extremely well-qualified and experienced instructors who are augmented by a network of expert consultants, together bringing exceptional expertise to the training. When requested, teams of instructors have deployed to conduct training at the customers’ sites, and using their aircraft.
Left: ITPS Students in 2020. Image credit: ITPS Canada
The ITPS approach to training is always the same: provide a solid grounding in the underlying theory, review the applicable specifications and regulations, explain the applicable test methods and data analysis routines, emphasize good risk management as it pertains to that type of test, then provide a practical demonstration on the simulator or in the air or both and thereafter task the student with conducting an exercise independently and report their findings. In completing the various syllabi, student TPs and FTEs work as part of a team, culminating, in the case of the Graduate Course, in collaboration on final projects which, over the years, have been completed on military aircraft such as SU-30MKM, F-18 Hornet, A-4K Skyhawk and NF-5B, civil FW types including Embraer Phenom 300, Airbus A-320, 340 and A300-600 Beluga, and, for RW purposes, AW-139, AW-169, and Bell 429. ITPS enjoys an excellent relationship with customers and key industry flight test centres and is constantly seeking to broaden the selection of aircraft available.
Tactical Flying Courses
The most recent addition to the ITPS fleet is a Sikorsky S76+, a twin-turboshaft medium utility helicopter. Image credit: ITPS Canada
The spectrum of courses on offer in London is broadened by the International Tactical Training Centre (ITTC), a sub-division of ITPS. ITTC offers a variety of tactical flying courses, which have evolved over the past 20 years to meet customer needs and are constantly evolving and improving. These include: Advanced Jet Training (AJT); Lead-In Fighter Training (LIFT); a Fighter Weapons Instructor Course (FWIC); and Tactical Development and Mission Commander courses. The flying platform for these courses is the L-39, and the key to their success is the calibre of the instructors employed to teach them - all retired military, currently a full-time team of six (but planned to increase) supported by a network of part-timers , all exceptionally qualified, and including four former RCAF FWIs. A significant benefit of having the flight test and the tactical training elements operating side-by-side is the depth of operational and tactical expertise which the tactics instructors – notably the FWIs - are able to bring to the flight test programme, providing the students with invaluable insight into the employment of the aircraft and systems they are testing. Tactical air-to-air training is supported by Ground Controlled Intercept (GCI) and Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI), and all missions are recorded in-aircraft, with replay facilities on the ground for debrief.
A Bright Future
Right: The MBB Bo-105M is a light, twin-engine, multi-purpose helicopter. Image credit: ITPS Canada
Thus far, the majority of ITPS students have been military, representing 25 air arms worldwide. Looking to the future, the School is gaining market share in European industry, and aims to increase its European military customer base. The North American market also holds promise in many niche sectors and ITPS is actively looking to expand in Canada and in the USA. As CEO Giorgio Clementi notes: ‘Leveraging technological advances to deliver better and more effective training is key to our future. There is considerable synergy between the flight test and tactical training operations in terms of sharing of expertise and resources. Our goal is to fully exploit those synergies. We have invested in Mixed Reality technology, and will be looking at ways to embody this in aspects of our training, thus improving the learning experience, making it more effective and lowering costs, all with no reduction in live flying. These technologies are being phased in progressively and we are driven commercially, so end-state capability is within two years.’
With its broad customer base, robust infrastructure built over many years, and capability of rapidly adapting to new ways of training, the future of ITPS looks bright.
For more information, visit: http://www.itpscanada.com