413th Flight Test Group Helps Determine when Aircraft are 'Airworthy'

3/14/2008 - Robins Air Force Base, GA -- When it comes to ensuring many of the Air Force's pilots are safe in the cockpit, the flight crews of the 413th Flight Test Group are on the job.

Flight crews from the 413th FTG, a tenant unit at Robins, are stationed throughout the nation to help conduct functional flight tests. The group is a partnership between the Air Force Materiel Command and the Air Force Reserve Command and is the operational supervisor of all the depot flight test units.

"We own a large piece of the AFMC flight test mission," said Col. Doug Carpenter, 413th FTG vice commander. He described the mission of the group as, "the corporate headquarters of a bigger mission."

The group, which manages four squadrons and two flights is made up of 140 full-time Airmen, 78 traditional reservist and nine civil servants. The group conducts flight tests on aircraft after the programmed depot maintenance is completed.

Once PDM is completed, members of the flight crew begin a variety of ground checks to -make sure the aircraft is ready for a functional test flight.

"(A flight test) is a lot more extensive than a normal preflight," said Senior Master Sgt. O'Brian Webster, superintendent of the group.

Once the flight crew decides the aircraft it ready, "they take-off and fly a very methodical checklist to check out the basic operating system," he said.

Some of the areas checked while airborne include the flight controls and landing gear.

"It can be hazardous and quite risky," Sergeant Webster said, adding that being a flight test pilot requires a "special skill set."

"Once the aircraft is deemed airworthy, then the airplane is delivered to the home station and is configured to fly whatever mission it is assign-ed to fly," Sergeant Webster said.

He said the group's flight crews have to go through a lot of involved training before they are able to test the aircraft in an effort to get them ready for the mission.

The group also helps transport damaged aircrafts to areas where they can be repaired.

One example was the recovery of a B-1B Lancer from a forward operating location, where one of the aircrafts engines caught fire and was burned beyond use. Members of the group's 10th Flight Test Squadron at Tinker AFB, Okla., flew the bomber with just three engines out of the area of responsibility and back to where it could be repaired.

Colonel Carpenter said the mission is not just about the flyers; the group's staff make the flight test mission possible.

"We have a lot of people behind the scenes getting our flight crews out the door," he said.

Sergeant Webster said one noteworthy thing about their group is the vast array of aircraft the group works with such as the F-4 Phantom.

"A lot of people think the F-4 is retired, but we still have someone flying the F-4," Sergeant Webster said.

Not only does the unit have the opportunity to work with aircraft from the past, it also gets to work with aircraft considered on the forefront of the future, such as the F-22 Raptor.

"We arguably support flight operations from the oldest to the newest flying aircraft," Colonel Carpenter said. "We see the cradle to the grave of our Air Force inventory flying today."

Source: USAF/Robins AFB Press Release by Amanda Creel

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