Seasoned Aviators and Engineers Learn Flight Test at TPS

Marine Maj. William Rothermel, USAF TPS student, receives training from Spike Minczoeski, a Teton Aviation L-39 pilot.
Photo: Airman 1st Class Stacy Sanchez

9/4/2007 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA. -- Counting down the 100 days left of school, a Marine major is awaiting graduation from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School here.

Marine Maj. William Rothermel is a student test pilot with senior class 07A at TPS.

Since 1944, TPS has been the training ground for future test pilots, test engineers, flight test navigators and weapons systems operators. TPS's main mission is to produce test pilots and flight test engineers to test new and experimental aircraft.

"It is a critical step in getting the best systems out to the warfighter", Major Rothermel said.

During a fiscal year, two separate classes undergo a 48-week curriculum that includes classroom academics, simulator training and flight exercises.

"We take aviators who are currently qualified and have been doing missions for a while," said Col. Mike Luallen, Test Pilot School commandant. "We bring them to TPS and teach them how to do flight test. Not all our aviators at the school are a part of the Air Force. We also have exchange and international students."

Colonel Luallen said TPS students also receive the opportunity to see new aircraft and weapons systems. The students learn to do the work on these systems to make sure the equipment meets standards to do what it was originally designed to do.

"This school and the students are extremely important to our mission here," Colonel Luallen said. "If we didn't have this school, we would have a lot of problems. If we were just to build something and put in into service without conducting any test before hand, we would come into several problems."

Colonel Luallen said test pilots and engineers are important in making sure the product is in good shape before it is sent out to the field. This process is time efficient and cost effective.

During the classroom portion of the curriculum, Major Rothermel said students gain a wealth of knowledge from the instructors.

"Student are able to broaden their knowledge in flight testing," Major Rothermel said. "Since there is only 48 week sin the course, there is not enough time to become an expert at any one thing in particular, but TPS teaches you that there are several resources to help you as a test pilot."

Colonel Luallen said each student varies in the areas they enjoy most during the course.

"Some students enjoy the academic portion of the course because they get a better understanding of the aircraft and its equipment," Colonel Luallen said. "Since students also get a broad experience with aircraft, some students enjoy getting the opportunity to fly several aircraft here."

TPS also offers various short courses throughout the year, which include senior executive short course, propulsion short course, electronic warfare short course and unmanned aerial vehicle short courses.

To become a TPS student as a pilot, main requirements are to include a bachelor's degree in engineering, mathematics or physics, be on extended active duty and have at least 750 hours of flying time.

As a TPS engineer, one must also have a bachelor's degree in engineering, mathematics or physics. They must also have an Federal Aviation Administration flying certification or military flying experience.

Applying to TPS requires two forms, AF-1711 and AF-1712. Instructions and examples for filling out these forms are contained in AFI 99-107.

"It's a lot of work and TPS is time consuming, but I would recommend anyone to apply," Major Rothermel said. "The things that we are exposed to here are phenomenal."

Each November, TPS has an annual selection board. This board selects pilots, navigators and engineers for the classes that start in July and January. The deadline for the application package to the Air Force Personnel Center is the December prior to the board.

Source: USAF Edwards AFB Press Release by Airman 1st Class Stacy Sanchez

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