Nature of the Work. Experimental or Engineering Test Pilots fly newly designed and experimental aircraft to determine if the plane operates according to design standards and make suggestions for improvements. Production test pilots fly new planes as they come off assembly lines to make sure they are airworthy and ready to turn over to customers. Airline test pilots flight test airliners after major overhauls before the planes are put back into service. They also flight test new aircraft to be sure they are up to airline standards before the airline accepts them from the manufacturer.
Test pilots for the FAA fly FAA planes with experimental equipment aboard to test performance of the equipment, or they fly FAA planes to test new kinds of ground based navigational aids such as radar or runway lighting. The experimental test pilot expects the unexpected as a plane is tested to the limits of its design strength and performance capabilities. The test pilot's job involves the most flying hazards. The production test pilot tests a plane on the basis of expected performance and known standards, as does the airline test pilot.
All of these pilots sometimes encounter emergency situations which they are expected to handle with the skill and knowledge their job requires. They prepare written and oral reports on their flight experiences and may fly either during the day or at night, depending upon the requirements of the test flight. Airline test pilots often work at night or on weekends, as most aircraft are serviced at that time. Experimental and production test pilots are employed at all aircraft manufacturing plants which are located mainly in California, Washington, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Maryland, Missouri, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Airline test pilots work wherever the airlines have overhaul bases, the largest ones of which are found in San Francisco, Miami, New York, Tulsa and Kansas City.
Engineering test pilots may advance to
the position of Chief Test pilot, as can production test pilots. Airline
test pilots eventually may advance to the airline's engineering or maintenance
administrative staff. Test pilot jobs are also available with the FAA. The demand for engineering and production test
pilots will fluctuate with the development and production of aircraft.
Over the next decade the production of general aviation aircraft is expected
to increase, while that of commercial air transports will level off due
to the introduction of the jumbo jets.
The jobs are located in areas where aircraft manufacturing plants are situated. They are chiefly in California, Washington, Missouri, Maryland, Texas, Kansas, Florida and New York. The entry level is GS-9. Entrance salary will vary with the degree of the applicant's experience and training. The flight test pilot may progress to branch chief positions in the engineering or manufacturing areas. An administrative post with respect to all FAA flight test pilots at FAA Headquarters or perhaps an assignment with the Federal Aviation Administration Test Center (the research and development arm of FAA) may provide opportunities for an administrative flight test engineering job.
Three years of general experience as a pilot or co-pilot in any civilian or military major aircraft operation is required. Also required is one to three years of special experience in the aircraft manufacturing industry or in the military or civil service of the Federal Government as a flight test pilot, aeronautical engineer or flight test engineer. The special experience must include engineering flight testing of experimental types of aircraft or the solution of technical engineering problems at a professional level. The pilot must have experience in obtaining and evaluating flight data related to flight performance, flight characteristics, engine operation, and other performance details of the prototype or modifications of production aircraft. Experience as an instructor in engineering flight testing of aircraft is also required. The higher entry grades require completion of a flight test pilot course, such as a military flight test school or the FAA flight test pilot course. College study in aeronautical, electrical, electronic or mechanical engineering, mathematics or physics may be substituted for some of the general experience requirements. He or she must have a first class FAA medical certificate plus 1,500 to 2,000 hours of flight time, a commercial pilot license, and single engine, multi-engine and instrument ratings. She or he must pass physical exams at regular intervals to retain the job.
Flight training with advanced training at a military flight test school may be obtained in the military service. Flight training through commercial pilot's license with appropriate ratings may be obtained from private or school-connected flying schools and institutes. A college degree in aeronautical engineering with flight training is preferred.
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