Test Pilot School Opens Doors for Naval Flight Officers

By Paul Lagasse

When naval flight officers (NFOs) hear the name “United States Naval Test Pilot School,” many conclude it is open to aviators only. They’re surprised to learn the school also welcomes applications from NFOs and engineers who want to pursue a career in developmental flight test.

USNTPS offers a fast-track into the exclusive ranks of the Navy and Marine Corps acquisition community, which is responsible for readying the aircraft, systems and weapons of tomorrow.

One might be surprised to learn that Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan,Program Executive Officer, Tactical Aircraft Programs, and Capt. Elizabeth Somerville, chief test pilot and future Commanding Officer of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, are all NFOs. All three are also USNTPS graduates and they credit the school with honing the skills they needed to advance to their current positions and prepare them for what comes next.

Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan, Program Executive Officer, Tactical Aircraft Programs, listens to a brief at a Boots on the Ground event at Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by PR1 Brandon Cole)

Successful USNTPS applicants are technically competent and tactically capable first-tour Navy lieutenants and Marine captains with top fitness reports.

“I was intrigued by the fact that the school’s technical curriculum is complemented by once-in-a-lifetime flying opportunities in different types of aircraft that I would not otherwise have had an opportunity to fly as a Navy P-3 NFO,” said Dillon, whose first tour was with Patrol Squadron (VP) 1 in Hawaii. “I was also really impressed by the fact that when you graduate, you immediately have an opportunity to apply what you’ve learned at a test squadron, which is right at the center of the development and acquisition of new aircraft and new systems for the fleet.”

Gahagan’s experience was similar. He first heard about USNTPS when friends applied to the school when he was a junior officer assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 115 in Atsugi, Japan, and again when he became an instructor at VAW-110 following his first tour.

“I touched base with them and they all viewed the program very favorably,” Gahagan said. “They said they were testing new capabilities and the latest technology that was going to be delivered to the fleet. That really got me interested, and I applied and was accepted.”

A career in flight test appealed to Somerville from her earliest days in the Navy flying in EA-6B Prowlers with Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 out of Whidbey Island, Washington.

“I had a fantastic tour, and then like most people as they near the second half of their tour I started thinking, ‘Well, what do I want to do next? Where do I think my skillset is best in line with the various missions in the Navy?’” said Somerville, who at that time already had a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I have always had a strong interest in solving problems and in building and fixing things, and that really seemed to line up well with the flight test mission. That’s what drove me to apply to USNTPS.”

All three NFOs are also Aerospace Engineering Duty Officers, or AEDOs, which means they provide management oversight of aerospace weapons systems throughout their life cycle. The AEDO path leads officers to command positions with test and evaluation squadrons, naval air test and warfare centers and program management positions within the Naval Air Systems Command. And the AEDO community prefers to cultivate new candidates from the NFOs who graduate USNTPS as well as from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

36Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, participates in a change of command ceremony at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif. Note: Photo taken before COVID-19. (U.S. Navy photo by Ron Rodriguez)Rear Adm. Scott Dillon arrives at the NAWCWD change of command ceremony at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, on April 19. (U.S. Navy photo by Ron Rodriguez)

“My follow-on tour in VX-20, and my subsequent tours in program offices and other acquisition-related organizations including NAWCWD here in China Lake have all been available to me as a consequence of graduating from USNTPS,” Dillon said. “USNTPS opens doors not only for AEDOs like myself, but also for unrestricted line officers. It creates additional opportunities that are central to the entire process of fielding new systems that would not be available to people who don’t have that background.”

Gahagan said the critical thinking skills he honed at USNTPS played a valuable role in helping him find career opportunities in positions where such skills were considered essential.

“When I transitioned to the AEDO community, I carried those tools with me and I think they really do improve your decision-making quality,” Gahagan said. “You bring the ability to analyze factual data, your experience, your intuition and your judgment, and I think over time it makes for more informed, better decisions. And if you can do that in your career, it’s bound to help you in the long run.”

“USNTPS is 100 percent the key enabler to my entire career,” Somerville said. “I have enjoyed every tour I’ve done because of the people I’ve had the privilege to work with, but without USNTPS I wouldn’t have had the chance to do those tours and meet those people.”

Somerville said she was fortunate that her arrival at VX-31 in China Lake, California, coincided with the squadron’s initial testing of the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

“I went from not even knowing where China Lake was to doing a tour as a department head in the Growler and being part of the first squadron to deploy with the Growler onboard an aircraft carrier,” namely USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

“None of those tours would have been possible without the education and the experience and the backgrounds that USNTPS gave me,” she said.

Dillon said that acquisition is about finding all the ways that a new system can fail to operate if some crucial detail is overlooked during the development cycle. “USNTPS trains people to pay attention to those details and to know what sort of technical concerns to be on the lookout for,” said Dillon, who oversaw the completion of the P-8A Poseidon’s initial operational testing and evaluation as program manager of the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft Program. “That way, problems can be discovered early and corrected while they’re still relatively easy to change, so that they never become an issue or a concern for the fleet operator.”

Capt. Elizabeth Somerville, chief test pilot, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 and former Commanding Officer of VX-31, earned her Wings of Gold as a naval flight officer in October 2000. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

“If you’re the sort of person who is both technically oriented and determined to dig into the details to determine whether or not we have truly gotten the design right, then you probably have the right sort of personality not only for test pilot school, but also for your follow-on assignment to a test squadron,” Dillon said.

Gahagan encourages NFOs to consider applying to USNTPS if it aligns with their career goals, their career timing and the needs of the Navy. “If all of those things align, it is a rewarding and challenging experience,” said Gahagan, who has also served as commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. “And I’ll tell you, it allows a lot of options in your Navy career. It gives you a different approach in the warfighting arena because you understand a system’s capabilities and how it was developed, and those skills are in demand.”

“As the Navy shifts from autonomous operations to a more integrated approach that relies on aircraft like the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the P-8 Poseidon and the Growler, I think the NFO will play a bigger role in air combat,” Gahagan said. “The NFO’s responsibilities will become much more challenging and demanding. USNTPS will help prepare you for those responsibilities.”

Somerville encourages NFOs who are considering applying to USNTPS to pursue a career in flight test and acquisition not to worry about how they will measure up against other applicants.

“The important thing is to walk in the door with the confidence of an individual who is an expert in your aircraft and who has all the qualifications that are expected of you at this stage in your career,” Somerville said. “As long as you have the willingness to work hard and have some technical or science background, then USNTPS will teach you the test and evaluation mission.”

“First as a project officer and later as a department head, you will get to make the calls to determine how these capabilities and platforms are going to be developed and to keep them on track when they run into roadblocks,” said Somerville, who also served as VX-31’s chief test pilot and Commanding Officer. “And then, when you go back out in the fleet, you’ll be able to point to that aircraft or that weapons system with pride and say, ‘You know, I played a big part in bringing that to the fleet.’”

Paul Lagasse is a public affairs specialist with U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Communications.

Apply to USNTPS

To learn more about USNTPS and how to apply, visit https://www.navair.navy.mil/nawcad/usntps.

The school’s academic rigor and excellence requires a highly competitive admissions process. Though not required, applicants typically hold degrees in engineering, physical science or math. Those without the requisite courses can make themselves competitive by completing correspondence courses at USNTPS.

Prospective test pilots have typically flown more than 1,000 flight hours. USNTPS evaluates military aviators by a selection board for flight qualification, professional performance, academic background and requirements of the service. The school evaluates engineers similarly with emphasis on experience, performance and flight suitability.

All interested candidates are encouraged to apply.  

Grampaw Pettibone

Gramps from Yesteryear: November-December 2001

Illustration by Ted Wilbur

Nighttime Nightmare

A strike package comprised of 12 aircraft launched from the carrier, in sections, on a night strike familiarization flight. The aircraft were to conduct in-flight refueling, also in sections, before proceeding on the mission. Due to excessive traffic overhead the carrier, the rendezvous point for one section of F/A-18 Hornets was altered by the section leader after becoming airborne. The two aircraft joined at a point 10 miles northwest of the ship and proceeded toward the tanker which was flying at 22,000 feet. Both pilots were wearing night vision goggles (NVG).

Established in spread formation with the wingman on the leader’s left side, the flight maneuvered to a 3-mile trail position behind a flight of three F-14 Tomcats also proceeding to the tanker. At this time a flight of three Hornets was also approaching the tanker at the section’s 11 o’clock position about 12 miles away.

The section leader’s wingman was spending 60 percent of his time monitoring traffic on radar and visually trying to assist the leader in joining up on the tanker. The flight closed to 2 miles in trail of the F-14s while the 3-plane flight of F/A-18s was six miles ahead. The wingman continued to devote most of his time to duties other than formation flying. The leader entered a descending 60-degree left angle of bank turn for 15 seconds. The wingman responded with a 35-degree angle of bank left descending turn. During this turn, a 24-degree heading difference developed between the two aircraft. The wingman was about 700 feet above the leader’s altitude.

The wingman did not recognize the heading differential or the resulting closure rate. Both Hornets rolled wings level with a 21-degree heading difference and the wingman 300 feet above the leader. The wingman did not recognize the rapidly increasing size of the leader’s aircraft due to scan breakdown and self-induced task saturation. The leader started an easy right turn, while the wingman continued a slight descent until the aircraft collided at a closure rate of approximately 180 knots with a 17-degree heading difference. The wingman immediately initiated successful ejection, but the leader was killed on impact.  

It’s a heckuva workload speedin’ through the sky at night, wearin’ NVGs and makin’ your way to the tanker with a bunch of fast movin’ birds in close company. The wingman lost situational awareness in this case because he was tryin’ to do too much beyond his primary duty of flying as wingman. He violated a basic, fundamental task of formation flying: avoid flyin’ into your lead.

Also, the flight did not brief for and subsequently did not use the air-to-air function of the tactical aid to navigation system, which mighta helped the fliers track their distance from each other. ‘Nuff said.

Physiological Episodes: Understanding the Human System

(U.S. Navy photo illustration by Fred Flerlage; photographic image by Cpl. Jason Jimenez)

Fleet aviators have not experienced a significant physiological event (PE) in more than a year due in part to increased understanding of breathing dynamics and how to mitigate symptoms in the cockpit, according to the Navy’s flight surgeon on the Physiological Episodes Action Team (PEAT).

Cmdr. Allen “Doc” Hoffman said he celebrated that milestone May 31, which is one of the PEAT’s many contributions toward resolving PEs since 2017 when they became Naval Aviation’s No. 1 safety priority.

In addition to technological improvements, the PEAT attributes the decline of PEs to educating and communicating directly with aviators during roadshows. Over the last two years, these roadshows have evolved from presentations in large auditoriums to briefings in less formal settings—squadron ready rooms (see article on page 28).

Focused on Navy’s High-Performance Athletes

Hoffman is a residency-trained flight surgeon who is board certified in aerospace and occupational medicine. He joined the PEAT in September 2018 to help unravel the mystery behind PE symptoms and develop a long-term treatment plan designed to return aviators to flight status.

Hoffman chairs the Air Medical Action Team (AMAT) created by the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) in 2017 to evaluate the human side of the equation. Comprised of more than 40 specialists, the team meets monthly to plan and analyze research studies and develop clinical practice guidelines to treat and prevent PEs.

“Treatment accessibility and quality are key successes. It’s one thing to treat people once they’ve been injured, but it’s the gold standard to prevent the injury. And that’s what we’ve done for the last year,” Hoffman said.

The AMAT’s investigations have shifted the emphasis from the aircraft to the men and women who fly those aircraft.

“PEs happen to people, not to aircraft,” Hoffman is quick to point out.

Renewed emphasis is on increasing stakeholder’s understanding of what aircrew experience physiologically in the inherently stressful flight environment in the cockpit as well as training and equipping naval aviators as professional athletes.

“We don’t train pilots how to fly the aircraft, we train pilots on how to fly their bodies. People tend to forget that the human system is the most important part of the aircraft system,” said Capt. James R. Linderman, the aeromedical physiologist on the PEAT and AMAT. Linderman, who earned his Ph.D. in physiology, has brought his experience in molecular, cellular and human physiology to the effort since 2019.

“Flights are basically athletic events where you need more oxygen. Your heart’s racing, you’re pulling Gs; it’s an athletic event and you need a constant supply of oxygen,” Hoffman said.

Acknowledging the physical demands of flight, the Navy holds pilots to a higher physical and mental standard than the general Navy population, Hoffman said. To be an aviator, one must meet the general duty standards plus the specific physical and functional requirements to fly, including perfect vision and hearing. Psychological requirements include an even-keel mentality with the ability to stay in control to solve problems in an emergency.

Aviators must also “fit” into their aircraft. Depending on the platform, one may be too tall, weigh too much or have arms that are too short or too long.

“We look at all those things to make sure that the right people go into the right aircraft, and they have the right physiological margins to tolerate that abnormal work environment,” Hoffman said.

A student naval aviator prepares her flight gear at Training Air Wing (TW) 4 aboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, on June 23. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Michelle Tucker)

Re-Examining Hyperventilation, Breathing Dynamics

Prior to recent findings, the aeromedical community and aviators believed hypoxia—oxygen deprivation at the tissue level—and decompression sickness (DCS) were the two major threats to aviators in the tactical air cockpit, Linderman said.

“While those are two conditions to be concerned about, they may not be what we’re seeing with respect to physiological events,” he said.

During its investigation, the AMAT analyzed the 57 reported symptoms and narrowed them down to two categories of physiological events—pressure-related or non-pressure-related, Hoffman said.

“Once we ruled out hypoxia and decompression sickness, it took us about 14 months to identify the two types of PEs and develop treatment,” he said. [The physiology and treatment of pressure-related PEs will be covered in a future issue.]

In the non-pressure related category, the AMAT discovered other contributing physiological states such as respiratory alkalosis—a decrease in blood carbon dioxide (CO2) levels called hypocapnia can lead to a rise in blood pH and create an area of regional hypoxia in the brain.

“Initially, people were saying ‘the aviators are hyperventilating; they’re causing their own problem,’” Hoffman said. “People associate hyperventilation with a conscious choice to breathe too fast because you are anxious or scared, but that’s not the case for aviators. Just by putting on your flight gear and sitting down in the aircraft, you have decreased your respiratory ability and your body will naturally start breathing faster to compensate. It’s not a conscious choice; it’s an involuntary reaction to maintain your physiological margins.”

In 2017, student pilots were reporting inadequate oxygen during their T-45 Goshawk flights. While investigators found no contaminants or toxins in the Onboard Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS), they did, however, find and resolve inadequate air flow caused by a 90-degree bend in the pipe.

What can happen in a low flow state is that chemoreceptors send signals to the brain triggering an unconscious response to breathe slightly faster, Linderman said. “That increase in breathing, again, not in a normal situation, could lead to a cascade of events that ultimately ends in this person getting hypocapnia.”

Hypocapnia is caused by an increase in blood pH, which must remain between the very tight range of 7.35 and 7.45. Anything above that causes a structural change in the hemoglobin causing it to hang on to oxygen instead of releasing it.

“It has nothing to do with not breathing in enough oxygen. You have plenty of oxygen, you just don’t release it to the tissue because your hemoglobin is ‘being selfish’ and holding onto it because of that high blood pH,” Hoffman said.

Airflow was improved in the T-45 by adjusting the engine idle and straightening out the bend in the OBOGS pipe, an earlier effort by the PEAT.

“We haven’t seen issues of low airflow in the T-45 since the [OBOGS] pipe was straightened,” he said.

The lungs’ ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide is also affected by two of the most physically demanding aspects of flying a tactical aircraft: high altitudes and pulling Gs, Hoffman said.

Since these two situations occur above 10,000 feet cabin altitude, aviators breathe supplemental oxygen at 94 percent, which is a much higher concentration than the 21 percent oxygen and 78 percent nitrogen in ambient air, Hoffman said. Cockpit ambient air with adequate partial pressures of oxygen are found at sea level and below 10,000 feet cabin altitude. 

Studies have found that one of the negative effects of breathing 94 percent oxygen is the potential for nitrogen to be washed out of the lungs which leads to atelectasis, Hoffman said. Atelectasis is the complete or partial collapse of a part of the lungs called alveoli. Nitrogen keeps the alveoli—the little sacs in the lungs that handle gas transfer—inflated. A lack of nitrogen can cause the alveoli to collapse which, in turn, increases the respiratory rate, he said.

BUMED is funding research projects exploring the effects of high levels of oxygen, how long before these effects occur and whether it is beneficial to use a lower percentage, Hoffman said.

The team has also learned more about breathing dynamics and how the position of the body affects one’s breathing. For example, while performing on stage an opera singer is standing upright, chest extended, shoulders back with lowered and tightened abdominal muscles, which enables maximum respiratory capacity, Linderman said. A pilot, on the other hand, is sitting in the cockpit wearing aviation life support systems, all of which reduces their respiratory capacity. It can also cause one to unconsciously change their breathing dynamics, ultimately affecting gas exchange and cellular processes within the body, he said.

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman Airmen, assigned to the “Sunliners” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81, test oxygen flow in pilot gear in a paraloft aboard aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Robyn B. Melvin)

Strategic Air Breaks Proposed

To mitigate non-pressure related events, BUMED and the PEAT are introducing “strategic air breaks” or periodic breathing techniques to improve aircrew’s respiratory function.

One of these breaks includes finding a time during the administrative part of a flight to drop below 10,000 feet cabin pressure, take off the mask and take deep breaths for a period of time to reintroduce nitrogen into the lungs and help re-inflate the alveoli.

“This will help mitigate, not just normal flight, but the physiological effects of pulling Gs. With the physiological margin of fully expanded lungs, the body is in a better position to handle G forces. When you pull Gs you are going to naturally have atelectasis; you can’t mitigate the effect from centrifugal force. However, if your lungs are at 100-percent capacity when you start, you’re going to be able to handle it much better,” Hoffman said.

Strategic air breaks and more information on breathing dynamics will be introduced in a new section in the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) General Flight and Operating Instructions Manual CNAF M-3710.7, Hoffman said. The updated instruction is expected to be finalized in August.

“While aviators have been trained in this all along, what we’ve found is that they haven’t been trained extensively enough. We believe educating the pilots and the medical professionals is so significant that we’ve rewritten the entire physiology chapter in CNAF 3710. It is about twice the size of the original, and once published, it will do a great job in educating new aviators and re-educating veteran aviators on exactly what their bodies are experiencing in flight,” Hoffman said.

Armed with this knowledge, aviators will become more aware of symptoms, correlate those symptoms to what happened in the cockpit and know how to mitigate them, Hoffman said.

Andrea Watters is editor in chief of Naval Aviation News.

PEAT Communicates with Fleet

The Physiological Episodes Action Team (PEAT) has been relaying its findings to aviators in the form of roadshow presentations. At first, the roadshows occurred in larger settings, but the team realized meeting with aviators in their squadron ready rooms was more effective, and the new approach seems to be resonating with aviators, according to Cmdr. Adrian “Catfish” Jope, PEAT lead.

“Initially the PE Roadshows were very much aircraft-centric without much discussion on the aeromedical front,” Jope said.

As more information came out regarding the aeromedical aspects involved with PEs during the Naval Air System Command’s (NAVAIR) Root Cause Corrective Action (RCCA) investigation, the team decided to shift some of its roadshow focus to address these important aeromedical findings.

Flight Surgeon Cmdr. Allen “Doc” Hoffman discusses the aeromedical impacts of flight on human physiology with the “Cougars” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139 during a Physiological Episodes Action Team roadshow at NAS Whidbey Island, Wash., in October 2019. (U.S. Navy photo)

“Since PEs happen to aviators and not the aircraft, we placed aeromedical professionals who were familiar with PEs at the forefront of the discussion. This enabled us to educate aircrew about the dynamics of aerospace physiology as well as what an aviator could expect should they experience a PE.  Additionally, we felt that it was vital to help strengthen the relationship and restore trust and confidence between aircrew and flight surgeons, especially when it came to the subject of PEs,” Jope said.

In March, the PEAT held its first round of what Jope refers to as the “PE TED Talk” at ready rooms across the Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Virginia, flight line. 

“Utilizing the same tools that aviators use on a daily basis to conduct flight briefs and debriefs, namely a whiteboard and dry erase markers, the team was able to communicate with aircrew in a way that is familiar to them,” he said.

During the discussions, the PEAT shares in depth information about the aircraft systems often associated with PEs, specifically the Environmental Control System (ECS) and the On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) and how they function in a normal and degraded fashion. Additionally, the PEAT’s flight surgeon systematically breaks down human physiology as it relates to the harsh aerospace environment, but at a level that everyone can easily understand.

“By doing this, we have been able to take a lot of the mystery out of PEs and dispel many misconceptions or concerns that aircrew have coming into the conversations,” Jope said.

Positive Feedback

“I initially was skeptical about how the Navy was handling PEs, mostly because of ‘word of mouth’ and other aircrew’s experiences. I was fortunate enough to sit through a PEAT roadshow in March which changed my mind completely,” said Cmdr. Anthony “YoYo” Scigliano, Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic (SFWL) Safety Officer. “After the PEAT’s roadshow, I went around talking to aircrew to get their perspectives. Everyone I talked to had the same view I did and came out much more informed.”

Lt. Cmdr. Kyle “Mooch” Jones, Safety Department Head with Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 at NAS Oceana, had a similar reaction.

“That roadshow was great because everyone was there, from the admiral down, and it was an honest assessment of what we, as a Navy, knew to that point. That type of delivery plays well with aviators and I think that helped change some perspectives,” Jones said.

The PEAT plans to continue its PE roadshows once COVID-19 travel and social distancing restrictions are lifted.

Lt. Cmdr. Kyle “Mooch” Jones, Safety Department Head with Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, prepares for a flight in an F/A-18F Super Hornet. (U.S. Navy photo)

Changing the Culture

Part of the challenge in mitigating PEs is the reluctance of aircrew to talk to the doctors because of their apprehension of being placed in a down status or “grounded,” Jope said.

“While it’s not necessarily right, it’s a cultural thing. Many aviators have Type A personalities, and, like athletes, they want to be involved in the game. If they’re on the sidelines, they feel like they’re not helping the team.

“To begin to change the culture, the new message has to be ‘if you’re not playing at 100 percent, you’re not only hurting yourself, but the entire team,’” Jope said. “This goes beyond feeling sick, too. Similar to athletes, aviators need to make sure that they are getting the proper nourishment, exercise and rest to keep themselves in top condition to take on the harsh and sometimes unforgiving environment in which they work. If they don’t, they are risking injury, or if already playing hurt, they risk making the injury worse and possibly finding themselves out of the ‘game’ for weeks or even months.”

There have been multiple PE reports over the past few years that could have been prevented had aviators taken an honest assessment of their overall fitness for flight prior to stepping into the cockpit, Jope said.

The Naval Aviation Enterprise is encouraging aviators to take themselves off the flight schedule if they’re not up to it, and that is happening more frequently at SFWL.

“I think that aircrew feel comfortable enough to take themselves off the flight schedule if they aren’t feeling up to snuff. They will get respect for owning up to the fact that they don’t want to put others at risk,” Scigliano said.  — Andrea Watters  

Test Pilot School Alum Reach for the Stars

Matthew Dominick, Jasmin Moghbeli, and Raja Chari (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Fred Flerlage; photographic images courtesy of NASA)

The first group of NASA astronauts since the announcement of the Artemis program graduated from the Johnson Space Center in Houston during a ceremony Jan. 10. Among the graduates were two men and a woman who attribute their success, in part, to attending the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS).

Then-NASA astronaut candidate Matthew Dominick during earth and planetary science training in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument Upper Gorge Area near Questa, N.M. (NASA photo by Norah Moran)

Matthew Dominick, a Navy lieutenant commander, graduated from USNTPS, based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, and served on USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) as department head for Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115. Dominick was one of 11 NASA and two Canadian Space Agency astronauts in the recent graduation class.

Raja Chari, an Air Force colonel, served as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California following his USNTPS graduation.

Jasmin Moghbeli, a Marine Corps major, is a distinguished graduate of USTPS. Moghbeli tested H-1 helicopters and served as the quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1.

Speed and man’s interaction with machines sparked Dominick’s early interest in flying and, ultimately, his decision to enlist in the Navy.

“[As a child] I was always building things in my backyard or in my garage and probably breaking my dad’s tools and figuring out how to work things,” Dominick said. “I am fascinated by human-machine integration and how we interact with machines. And I was always interested in going faster and higher … but I quickly realized there are limits to what you can do without an education, and the Navy presented me with that opportunity.”

Like many of his colleagues, Chari first knew he wanted to fly as a career in late middle school, but his inspiration was perhaps a little different from theirs.

Then-NASA astronaut candidate Raja Chari readies for T-38 flight training at Ellington Field. (NASA photo by James Blair)

“I was really into ‘Star Wars’ at the time, but at some point, I realized that I couldn’t fly an X-Wing in real life and fighter jets seemed like a logical Plan B,” Chari said with a laugh. “And being an Air Force guy, I’m probably going to catch a lot of flak for saying this, but I can’t lie that ‘Top Gun’ didn’t play a role in it, too.”

Moghbeli, who cut her aviation teeth piloting helicopters for the Marine Corps, said her first flight aboard a Cessna with a family friend cemented her desire to fly. Around the same time, she decided to pursue a career in the Marine Corps.

“Both my grandparents served in the military in Iran. My Mom’s father served in the Iranian Navy, so I think from an early age, I started having an interest in the military,” Moghbeli said. “I was initially looking at the Navy and then, in my junior year of college at a career fair, I talked to an officer at a Marine Corps booth, and ended up going to officer candidate school that same summer and enjoyed getting commissioned after that.

“I have always liked the idea of service to country and traveling and adventure, and I’ve always played sports,” Moghbeli said. “Rivalry really appealed to me.”

Test Pilot School Offers Path to Space

The path to exploring beyond the Earth’s atmosphere was different for each of the newly minted astronauts, but these three share a special bond having completed the unique training experience at USNTPS.

Dominick earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of San Diego and a master’s degree in systems engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. His thirst to continue learning and a desire to contribute to the fleet in a more effective way led to him to apply to USNTPS.

Then-NASA astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli conducts T-38 engine maintenance training at Ellington Field in Houston. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

“I was in my fleet squadron and I realized that what was right for me—based on what I love to do—was to go to test pilot school because that would be a place where I could explore further how [to] make things better for the fleet,” Dominick said, remarking that USNTPS pilots actively participate in testing aircraft and troubleshooting issues that arise in order to repair and improve systems.

“Test pilot school is about a way of thinking about problems and a way to communicate issues. Most of test pilot school is really just understanding complex things and distilling them down into a way that people can understand, so that problems can get resolved. Most people think about test pilots like, edge of the envelope, keeping an airplane flying, conducting these really extreme high-risk test points. That’s kind of the glamour shot. But 95 percent of test piloting is reading and writing—and writing very well.”

After graduating from the Air Force Academy and earning his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chari was considering whether to pursue a career in engineering or aviation when a friend gave him some valuable advice.

“He said, ‘Did you know there’s this place called the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School where you can actually do engineering work and fly, too?’” Chari recalled. “To me, that sounded like a perfect blend of my interests.”

Dominick wears a spacesuit prior to underwater spacewalk training at the NBL. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

Chari applied to USNTPS while assigned to an F-15 Strike Eagle squadron in England, and was thrilled when, the following year, the school offered him a place.

“It was a pretty amazing experience, and I made friends that I still keep in touch with today,” Chari said. “It’s definitely not a walk in the park, but it’s also fun when you remember to take a step back and look at it. You’ll be grumbling that you have to write this huge paper, but then you remind yourself that you’re doing it because tomorrow, you’ll get to fly a plane you’ve never flown before.”

USNTPS also opened up another career path for Chari that, until then, had seemed only a distant possibility—being an astronaut.

“Honestly, I didn’t really think it was realistic until I got selected for test pilot school,” he said. “That’s when it dawned on me that this astronaut idea was now actually within the realm of possibility.”

Moghbeli earned her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering with information technology at MIT and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School before being accepted to USNTPS, which she admits was more challenging than she anticipated.

“I think I underestimated a bit,” Moghbeli said. “I remember when I first got there, we received this email about the ‘You’ll Be Sorry Party.’ I was like, ‘what do you mean ‘you’ll be sorry?’ You know, like, it can’t be that bad. The long-standing joke is you spend half your day in class, half your day flying and half your day writing reports. It was very, very time consuming trying to do everything to the level that I wanted.”

Teamwork and Troubleshooting: Key Ingredients

What is it that makes USNTPS one of the key pipelines for people who seek to become astronauts?

Dominick wears a spacesuit prior to underwater spacewalk training at the NBL. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

Marine Lt. Col. Rory Feely, Commanding Officer, USNTPS, said that in addition to the school’s comprehensive curriculum, top-notch instructors and highly competitive application process, it is the school’s emphasis on teamwork that benefits future astronauts.

“When you look at the qualities and characteristics of those who are successful in applying to NASA and becoming astronauts, I think it is the teamwork side of their personality that sets them apart,” Feely said. “And we foster that trait here because close collaboration between aviators and engineers is a critical part of flight test, not just here at the school but throughout the Navy’s other test squadrons.”

“There’s nothing we do in life these days that we do by oneself,” Feely said. “Our disciplines and our endeavors are just far too complicated for one person to be able to cover all the bases. USNTPS graduates learn from experience that their success is dependent on their ability to work with and to trust others as a team.”

Feely speaks from experience; he worked with Moghbeli in early 2012 when both were assigned to the operations department of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 367 at Camp Pendleton, California—and, in fact, Feely wrote a letter of recommendation in support of her application to USNTPS.

“She never, ever quit, which is a fantastic attribute to have,” Feely said. “I used to tell people that the only reason she’s working for me is because I outranked her, otherwise I’d be working for her.”

Founded in 1945, the USNTPS trains developmental test pilots, flight officers, engineers and industry and foreign partners in the full-spectrum test and evaluation of aircraft and aircraft systems. The school is in the forefront of developing modern test techniques, and is a leader in the standardization of flight test. It is the only source of rotary-wing test pilots in the United States and serves as the Army’s test pilot school. Graduates leave the program prepared to meet the wide range of requirements necessary to conduct research, developmental and operational test and evaluation activities in support of U.S. military services, government agencies and many foreign nations.

Moghbeli is helped into a spacesuit prior to underwater spacewalk training at the NBL. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

For military pilots, flight officers and engineers who want to become astronauts, USNTPS isn’t the only gateway, but it is one of the most successful, Feely said. But those people have to really want it, he said.

“USNTPS is very selective about who is allowed to participate in the program, both on the staff side and the student side, and those who make it through the doors are already very accomplished in many areas of their careers not only academically, but also in terms of their flight performance,” Feely said. “A person may have hopes of becoming an astronaut when they become a pilot in the military, but first they have to build their reputation by aiming higher and seeking out greater challenges.”

Dominick said his USNTPS experience prepared him for uncertainties while in the air and ways to quickly troubleshoot issues as they arise.

“[USNTPS] puts you in situations in which you are uncomfortable. When you first get there, the first aircraft you fly is one you are unfamiliar with,” said Dominick, who had experience with fixed-wing aircraft, but found himself in the cockpit of a helicopter as his first flying experience at USNTPS. “They want to make you uncomfortable and to assess what is going on. I think that was really valuable experience.

“Also, if you want to have influence, if you want to be there in the early stages of development and make the fleet have better tools to do the job, then go to USNTPS.”

Moghbeli reiterated that having an immediate impact to the fleet was a fulfilling reward for those who attend USNTPS.

“Something I loved about it was that it allowed me to combine that operational experience I had from the fleet with my engineering background. And the cool thing about it is you graduate from test pilot school and you’re immediately having impacts to aircraft systems, weapons systems, avionics, things that are going to be going out to the fleet,” she said. “I remember I was working on an electrical warfare pod as the project manager after graduating. I would give feedback, the engineers would incorporate it, and I would test again. That iterative process, of seeing the active change in that product and giving the fleet something that I felt was a better product, was a very satisfying experience for me.”

Chari agreed with his colleagues about the value of finely honed problem-solving skills in day-to-day military service. “If you’ve ever been frustrated with a system because it doesn’t work the way it should, the way to deal with that is to go to test pilot school and become part of the solution,” he said. “You will develop the ability to influence future systems and make them better for the operators who come after you.”

From left, NASA astronaut candidates Dominick, Chari and Moghbeli take time to bond on their hike during wilderness survival training at the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in Brunswick, Maine. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

Solving Space Challenges

All three astronauts said they draw on their experiences and knowledge gleaned from USNTPS on a daily basis, mostly their troubleshooting skills and thought processes to improve existing technology.

Dominick, who is currently working with Moghbeli on the Orion lunar lander for NASA’s planned return to the Moon, said his skills from USNTPS are directly impacting that program. Specifically, Dominick said he is addressing challenges of being able to dock the Orion spacecraft with the lander, and then have the lander touch down on the Moon and then be able to redock once leaving the Moon’s surface.

“We’re going to visually fly one spacecraft into another … it’s very analogous to some of the tasks we did at test pilot school,” Dominick said. “When I was at [Air Test and Evaluation Squadron] VX-23, I was involved with the Precision Landing Mode program, initially called MAGIC CARPET, working on landing [an aircraft] on the ship in a more precise way. And what’s really funny is that I am now using the same exact fundamental control laws and human system integration that we were using for landing on a ship … to learn how to land on the moon.”

“I’m looking at using my background as a helicopter test pilot to look at how we train for this mission, what trainers can we use and what’s out there. And what’s cooler than that?” Moghbeli said. “To be able to work on the next lunar lander as a new astronaut is pretty cool.”

“It’s a natural progression from test pilot school to NASA,” said Chari, who is now the test director for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, helping ready the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon for crewed spaceflights. “A lot of what we’re doing with the new vehicles is very much test related. All of the vehicles being developed need people who have test backgrounds and who understand the acquisition process. And we have to be very good at managing many tasks at once. So it’s a very translatable skillset.”

The new graduates may be assigned to missions destined for the International Space Station, the Moon, and ultimately, Mars. According to NASA, the organization has plans to send the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon by 2024. Additional lunar missions are planned once a year thereafter and human exploration of Mars is targeted for the mid-2030s.

Rob Perry is a staff writer and editor with Naval Aviation News. Paul Lagasse is a public relations specialist with the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.   

USNTPS Alum Bridges Two Eras

(Photo courtesy of SpaceX)

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley holds a unique distinction in the annals of space flight. As the pilot of the last Space Shuttle mission in 2011 and a member of the first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft that launched to the International Space Station on May 27, Hurley and his fellow astronaut, Bob Behnken, are the first American astronauts to have flown to space in two different types of U.S.-built launch vehicles since John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth in a Mercury spacecraft, flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998. And, like Glenn, Hurley has the distinction of being a graduate of the U.S. Naval Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

A veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, including the program’s final mission in July 2011, Hurley was named to the Crew Dragon Demo 2 mission along with Behnken in 2018. Following his graduation from USNTPS, the U.S. Marine Corps veteran was assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 where he served as an F/A-18 project officer and test pilot, becoming the first Marine pilot to fly the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and serving as the squadron’s operations officer.

Another interesting fact: on both his last shuttle flight and his first Crew Dragon flight, Hurley flew from the same location, the historic Launch Complex 39A, from which the first Saturn V moon rocket launch and the first—and last—space shuttle launch took place. In every sense, then, Doug Hurley’s space saga is truly historic. — Paul Lagasse  

Weapons Survivability Lab Marks 50 Years

An aerial view of the nine-engine Super HVAS at the WSL. (U.S. Navy photo by WSL Photo Team)

For 50 years, the Weapons Survivability Laboratory (WSL) at China Lake, California, has played a crucial role in making naval aircraft safer and more survivable in a crash.

Since 1970, the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division’s (NAWCWD) WSL has discovered and resolved vulnerabilities in aircraft before sending naval aviators into enemy territory. Could a rocket-propelled grenade fired at a flying jet’s fuel tank bring the plane down? WSL conducts tests, analyzes what happened and provides data so aircraft designers can do their best to ensure the answer to that question, and many more, is “no.”

A T-33B aircraft is set up for a test at the WSL’s original two-engine High Velocity Airflow System (HIVAS) circa 1975. (U.S. Navy photo)

“I’m always impressed with the passion and dedication of the people working in the survivability discipline,” said Chuck Frankenberger, WSL lead. “That passion provided a great foundation, and it’s alive and well in the workforce today. We continue to expand that foundation by keeping up with or ahead of new aircraft and threat technologies, providing the most survivable aircraft to our warfighters.”

Today, WSL has five primary test sites that can accommodate anything from small, unmanned air vehicles to jumbo-sized transports.

An A-4 Skyhawk undergoes fuel system evaluations at the Weapons Survivability Laboratory (WSL). (U.S. Navy photo)

Naval Air Systems Command initiated the Aircraft Survivability Program in 1969 after survivability issues plagued aircraft from World War I through the Vietnam War. In particular, more than 5,000 aircraft were lost to small arms in Southeast Asia, and there were more than 30,000 incidents of combat damage.

That same year, what was then the Naval Weapons Center (NWC) was chosen as the lead laboratory to conduct research and development work to understand vulnerability and survivability on Navy combat aircraft, such as the A-4 Skyhawk, F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat and A-7 Corsair.

In 1970, NWC started the Vulnerability/Survivability Gun Range and completed its first live-fire test site. The A-4 Skyhawk was the first aircraft tested, marking the beginning of a 50-year tradition of evaluating the lethality of foreign threats against U.S. aircraft and finding potential vulnerabilities.

But it soon became obvious there were limits to testing capabilities, mainly, that planes in flight move through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, while planes on the ground are in still air. Enter the High Velocity Airflow System (HIVAS).

The facility’s first HIVAS was completed in 1975 to provide realistic conditions for live-fire testing. The system simulates in-flight airflow conditions over aircraft surfaces or through internal compartments or engine inlets.

Over the ensuing years, the Aircraft Survivability Range expanded its focus, combining live-fire testing and analysis for a model-test-model approach to identify and test vulnerabilities, then make recommendations on how to fix them. In 1980, the name changed to the Weapons Survivability Laboratory.

Survivability testing, of which WSL is at the forefront, is so vital that the Department of Defense 5000 series of directives in 1991 mandated survivability as a critical system characteristic when acquiring weapons systems. Also, federal law requires realistic survivability testing be done before production ramps up.

An F-14 MANPADS (man-portable air defense system) is tested in static condition, tower mounted at the WSL. (U.S. Navy photo)

As the times change, so does WSL. The first HIVAS used two turbofan engines; today, WSL has a four-engine HIVAS and a nine-engine Super HIVAS, which allows air to move at up to Mach 0.82. In addition to blowing air over wings, the systems enable testing of aerodynamics, flares and rocket motors, stores ejection and separations, seat ejections and parachute deployment, among others.

By performing these tests on the ground with remote controls and full instrumentation, WSL conducts evaluations that would be difficult or impossible to complete safely and cost effectively. As demonstrated over the last 50 years, WSL will continue to adapt to ever-changing conditions to protect America’s forces from threats old and new.

Written by Aaron Crutchfield with Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Public Affairs.

Navy, Air Force Collaborate on Engine Testing Remotely

A Pratt & Whitney F135 engine is fired in a J-2 test cell at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC), Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. When the Remote Data Room at the Propulsion Systems Evaluation Facility at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River is connected to the AEDC this fall, engineers at both sites will collaborate on testing the engine. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A year in the making, engineers from the Propulsion Systems Evaluation Facility (PSEF) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, and engineers at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee, will soon be collaborating on a first-of-its-kind endeavor.

In September, Leo Rubio, a test engineer with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD) PSEF at Pax River, will join forces with engineers at AEDC to run a test and analyze the data on a Pratt & Whitney F135, the engine that powers all three variants of the F-35 Lightning II. What makes this particular test unique is that Rubio will be watching and participating from the new Remote Data Room in Maryland while the other engineers, and the engine, will be 700 miles away in Tennessee.

Located inside PSEF, the Remote Data Room—which currently comprises four monitors and two keyboards—allows a test analyst at Pax River to act as a remote team member during a live engine test taking place at the AEDC and view the data being collected.

“One thing we worried about was the latency when working in real time; will there be dropouts or will we see a number of data points from a minute ago or a second ago,” said John Kelly, branch head for Test Operations and Facilities Engineering at Pax River. “But, so far, with just the few trials we’ve run, it’s milliseconds. Now that the proof of concept is real, we’re pushing forward and building an actual dedicated room with four work stations and two big screen TVs so we can see the engine running in the test cell; and we’ll do a Skype setup so we can also see each other.”

The Remote Data Room is saving time and money. In the past, if the Navy needed to help support an engine test, they would have to pay travel expenses and send personnel to AEDC.

“Even then, we wouldn’t be qualified to sit and analyze data with the test team,” Kelly said. “We’d be more of an observer, or the customer, waiting for data. But now, we’ll be more integrated; we’re one of the test team people watching with this data room.”

That’s where Rubio plays a big part, having recently completed AEDC’s Aeropropulsion Combined Test Force Basic-Level Training curriculum.

Advancing Technical Skill Sets

In 2019, Rubio was sent to the AEDC facility—which operates more than 60 aerodynamic and propulsion wind tunnels, rocket and turbine engine test cells and other specialized units—to support the Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray program and observe an altitude test for the AE3007N engine.

“The goal was to work with my counterpart at AEDC, Seth Beaman, to develop a training curriculum to get NAVAIR personnel certified as basic-level analysts,” Rubio said. “I ended up integrating myself well with the test team and taking on more of the training and serving as a test analyst during all of their air periods for this test program.”

AEDC has training standards they follow, and the engineers worked to determine what portion of those standards applied to Navy employees, whether they are present at AEDC or remotely supporting a test from PSEF, Beaman said. The curriculum the team developed will ultimately help advance the workforce and enable them to more quickly respond to critical evolving requirements of current and future programs like F-35.

“Any engineers [at Pax River] who will be coming down here or who will be remotely supporting will be going through that training program at some point,” said Beaman, a test analyst and one of 10 NAVAIR employees with the Aeropropulsion Combined Test Force who work with the Air Force at AEDC.

Improved Speed and Readiness

With the Navy’s combined interest in some of the engine testing being done at AEDC, the Remote Data Room offers NAWCAD engineers the ability to access data, not only in real time while seeing the test, but also by accessing historical data without having to call down to Tennessee for assistance.

“[In the past], there wouldn’t have been much communication between any type of testing [at AEDC] and what they were doing at Pax,” Beaman said. “If they were interested in accessing data, they maybe would’ve called a branch chief here to request it, but the lead time required gathering, analyzing and reporting the data before sharing. Now, [with the Remote Data Room connection] if Leo wants to access AEDC data, he just has to log in and he’ll have access to plot any type of historical data he’d need to reference.”

In a move benefitting both sides, the analysis group in Tennessee assigned a certain objective, or portion of the upcoming F135 test, to Rubio, who will analyze fan duct heat exchanger effectiveness.

“We have certain objectives we’re trying to accomplish, and with Leo responsible for an objective, it will give him the work he needs to gain experience while [simultaneously] offloading a little of the work from the analysis force here at AEDC,” Beaman said. “That gives us time to do a more thorough analysis on the remaining objectives. Ultimately, this will yield more quality and quicker post-test reports.”

In fact, the biggest winners in all of this may be the engineers themselves.

“This is a remarkable opportunity for engineers at Pax,” Rubio said. “We primarily deal with turboshaft engines in PSEF whereas AEDC deals with turbofan and turbojet engines. This allows our folks to get a greater variety of testing experience and encourages more of a collaborative effort. Also, rather than having data forwarded to our teams here for an engine test they may have some stake in, they can access live test data and perform their own analysis much faster and with some elaborate tools that AEDC engineers have at their disposal.”

Kelly also noted another plus to engineers comes in their role as the voice of the Navy when talking to original engine manufacturers (OEM), such as Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce or GE.

“One of the best ways to get a PSEF engineer knowledgeable on an engine is through doing the testing where you can really see how it operates—the good stuff and the faults,” Kelly said. “It’s a better in-depth understanding of the engine versus just studying what the engine is supposed to do. So, if we have engineers going through this training and learning what the engine is, they’ll be much more knowledgeable at their job and work better with the OEMs.”

“It’s definitely like a ‘Field of Dreams’ thing: ‘build it and they will come,’” Kelly said. “We know as soon as we get it going, everyone will be saying, ‘Really? I want to see this.’ I’m expecting it’ll keep building the more we use it.”

Even as the team starts up the Remote Data Room, they’re certain it will generate interest beyond their own division.

Donna Cipolloni is editor of the Tester newspaper and supports NAS Patuxent River Public Affairs

Navy Test Engineers to Regain Hands-on Experience

Leo Rubio, seated, Propulsion & Power test engineer, shows John Kelly, Test Operations and Facilities Engineering branch head, data plots from historical engine data acquired at the AEDC using the Remote Data Room set up at NAS Patuxent River. (U.S. Navy photo by Adam Skoczylas)

The idea of the Remote Data Room was kicked into action when John Kelly, branch head for Test Operations and Facilities Engineering, arrived at the Propulsion Systems Evaluation Facility (PSEF) a couple years ago. He was tasked by his former boss Tony Miguelez, who is now the Fleet Support Team Executive/Chief Engineer, Fleet Readiness Center Commands, to bring the room to life.

“It was his concept,” Kelly said. “Miguelez was from the generation who came through [Naval Air Warfare Center] Trenton and did a lot of testing. He came up through the ranks and I think he recognized the value of the knowledge that experience gives a test engineer.”

Following a Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) decision that shuttered the Trenton facility in the late 1990s, DOD decided all turbo shaft and turbo prop work would come to the Navy at Pax River, while turbo jet work went to the Air Force at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee.

Tom Weiss, division head for Propulsion and Power’s Test Methods and Facilities Division, said when Propulsion and Power lost the ability to do altitude testing in house as part of that BRAC, new engineers coming aboard lost the ability to look at data, make decisions based on the data and really understand the inner workings of an engine.

“Anybody who’s an engineer who has spent part of their career doing flight test, ground test or anything where you’ve really had your hands into it understands the product much better than by just watching what others are doing,” Weiss said. “With the Remote Data Room, I think we’ll get that back.”

Weiss also noted with AEDC’s shift from contractors toward the government workforce taking over data analysis in reporting, the need for a highly trained government workforce has increased.

“As need continues to grow, AEDC will not be able to staff up because of financial limitations within the Air Force,” Weiss said. “This Remote Data Room will come in to play with the Navy augmenting their ability to conduct these tests on time and within budget. This is a great opportunity for both workforces to grow technically  and collaborate.” — Donna Cipolloni    

Grampa Pettibone

Gramps from Yesteryear: March-April 2001

Illustration by Ted Wilbur

Wild Winds

Editor’s note: Lt. Cmdr. Howard M. Tillison, USNR (Ret.), was officer in charge of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 30 Det A aboard USNS Harkness (T-AGS-32) in 1982 during the incident he describes here.

We were inbound in our HH-2D Seasprite to a promising landing zone (LZ) which was on a gently sloping coastal plane in the lee of a mountain range that rose from sea level to 3,000 feet within a couple of miles. Inbound to the LZ from the ship at 1,500 feet we had a 25-knot head wind, shown by comparing our airspeed and doppler ground speed indications. When I reached a good spot to begin a straight-in landing approach to the LZ, I started a normal descent and began reducing airspeed from 100 to 70 knots for a straight-in to final. We were attempting to land as closely as possible to a road which ran along the base of the mountains at the spot where they began their upward thrust from the coastal plain.

I suddenly noticed that things didn’t feel right. I looked down to see a 1,500-feet-per-minute rate of descent on the vertical speed indicator. My ground speed was also increasing and the mountains were getting bigger all the time. In the space of about a mile, the wind had shifted 180 degrees and was now dead on the tail. Instead of a straight-in to the LZ, I ended up button-hooking around. I landed uneventfully, facing back toward the ocean.

After analyzing the situation, my copilot and I realized that the easterly tradewinds were spilling over the ridge and forming a rotor in the lee of the mountains, which resulted in both a downdraft during our approach and a 180-degree wind shift at ground level. Luckily, we were lightly loaded, overpowered and had room to recover from a potentially hazardous situation by making a 180-degree turn prior to landing. If we had been heavy and failed to notice the wind shift prior to short final, we could just as easily have been in a settling-with-power, or power-settling (remember the tailwind) situation.

After that experience, we either had our ground party pop a smoke flare every time we approached an LZ in mountainous terrain, or we conducted a flyover at 1,500 feet and tossed out a roll of toilet paper to see what the winds were doing at ground level before commencing our approach.

Mountain flying is a different environment, even when the mountains are right there next to the friendly ocean and flat tropical beaches. Helo drivers should be aware of this potential problem before attempting to land on the lee side of a mountain and ending up with a tailwind instead of a head wind while trying to pull into a hover.

Gramps blamed the CH-53D Sea Stallion crew in “Lava Lament” (see Grampa Pettibone, Spring 2020) for failing to “determine the wind direction,” but it’s not always apparent when the wind has shifted 180 degrees as it did with me and probably did to the CH-53D pilots that day, in a relatively small space. If a Hornet is on final to a carrier and the winds go out of limits, the air boss or the landing signal officer can wave it off. It ain’t the same ball game when you’re in a helo trying to make it into an LZ without the benefit of having somebody on the ground to put up a windsock before you arrive.

Grampaw Pettibone says …

“Welcome advice for rotary wing pilots.”

Investigators Find No Root Cause of Physiological Episodes, Identify Physiological Degraders

U.S. Navy photo illustration by Fred Flerlage

Naval Aviation’s Root Cause Corrective Action (RCCA) analysis teams concluded their investigations in December and found no single root cause for Physiological Episodes (PEs) experienced by naval aviators.

They determined, however, that PEs may result from a “stacking of physiological degraders,” according to Rear Adm. Fredrick Luchtman, Commander, Naval Safety Center, and Physiological Episodes Action Team (PEAT) lead.

Each RCCA core team—one for the T-45 Goshawk training jet and another for F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler jets—included Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) engineers along with instructor pilots, independent doctors and scientists, along with support from dozens of other subject matter experts.

PEs remain Naval Aviation’s No. 1 priority, Luchtman said.

To mitigate risk, the PEAT and program offices have developed tools and upgraded equipment in the T-45, the F/A-18 and EA-18G.

“The good news is the rate of PEs in the T-45 has gone down 90 percent since the peak rate in March of 2017. For the F-18, the rate has gone down 59 percent since the peak rate in November 2017,” Luchtman said.

He attributes those decreases to new tools and upgrades specific to each aircraft.

His focus now is on air crew awareness, proper equipment fit and educating aviators on how to maximize their physical condition to better withstand the hostile environment in the cockpit.

Physiological Margins

“We have validated that there are some factors—such as hydration, nutrition, sleep, physical conditioning and stress—that enable one to be more resilient in the cockpit,” he said.

“If you can maximize hydration, nutrition and rest, and minimize stress, you make yourself more resilient and able to handle the hostile cockpit environment,” he said.

He compared an aviator’s physiological margin to a suit of armor.

The rate of physiological episodes has gone down 59 percent since its peak in November 2017 for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz).

“We call the depth of that armor the physiological margin. It is how well you are prepared to handle an anomaly in the cockpit. Like professional athletes, we need to understand our own physiology and how to maximize our own physiological margin.”

While it is difficult to quantify human performance aspects, the topic of physiological margins and equipment fit have been the focus of the PEAT’s roadshows. The roadshows are designed to keep aviators informed of the PEAT’s findings and aware of upcoming changes before they are published in the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization.

Feedback from pilots during the roadshows on the human performance aspects have been mixed, he said.

Rear Adm. Fredrick Luchtman, Physiological Episodes Action Team lead, visited Naval Medical Research Unit Dayton (NAMRU-Dayton) Nov. 4 and experienced the scientific force that is the one-of-a-kind research device called the Kraken. A pilot himself, Luchtman donned his flight suit and strapped into the capsule to experience a profile that addresses pilot spatial disorientation. (U.S. Navy photos)

“There is some level of frustration that there is no single root cause, no smoking gun. But when we walk through the scenario and talk about how one can get to a degraded state in the cockpit based on these physiological aspects adding up, they start nodding their heads,” he said.

Naval Aviation has made it look effortless, he added.

“We have done ourselves a disservice in Naval Aviation by making this look so easy, when in fact this is a hard job in a very demanding and hostile environment where incredible G-forces, temperature variations and an almost overwhelming amount of sensory input are placed upon you. The better physical shape you are in, the better you’ll be able to withstand those demands,” he said.

When physiological degraders add up, they may result in a PE, which applies to either breathing dynamics and hypoxia events, or pressure-related events that result from fluctuating cabin pressure caused by sub performing parts in the Super Hornet’s Environmental Control System (ECS).

“We want to keep parts from failing, but in the event they do fail, aviators can protect themselves even more by making sure they’ve stacked up their physiological margin,” Luchtman said.

Equipment Fit

In April 2018, the RCCA team identified gear fit as a contributing factor to PEs.

If the flight harness is worn too tight or the straps are in the wrong places, it can inhibit the aviator’s ability to take a full, deep breath.

“If you can’t take a deep breath, that becomes a physiological degrader and reduces one’s physiological margin. It adds up with everything else one might be taking into the cockpit, such as dehydration, hypoglycemia, stress or lack of sleep,” Luchtman said.

The proper fit of the mask around the pilot’s face is also critical. As the pilot moves his head around there could be small leaks around the edge of the mask, which can impact the Onboard Oxygen Generating System’s (OBOGS) ability to provide the proper amount of air, he said.

During the squadron roadshows, a team of experts from the Aircrew Systems Program Office spot checks aviators’ flight gear and suggests how to get a better fit.

(U.S. Navy photos)

F/A-18E/F Mitigations

There are several efforts underway in the Super Hornet community: updates to the PE reporting guidance implemented in Fall 2019; introduction of the Hornet Health Assessment and Readiness Tool (HhART) to the fleet last year; and the ongoing installation of a digital pressure gauge, which will increase air crew awareness.

“We are in the process of replacing the analog pressure gauge with a digital pressure gauge that will record data and provide a digital readout of cabin altitude for the pilot. It will indicate whether or not the cabin altitude is on or off schedule or is too high or too low,” he said.

Modifications are underway and are expected to take 10 days to two weeks per aircraft.

One of the most effective mitigations to date is HhART, he said.

To reduce fluctuations within the aircraft’s Environmental Control System, the program office has developed a tool to identify sub performing parts before they fail.

The tool uses data collected via Slam Sticks worn by pilots during flight and evaluates how well parts are functioning. (For more on HhART, see article on page 17.)

“Since we instituted HhART, along with a couple of other changes, we’ve driven the rate down in F-18s significantly,” he said.

T-45 Goshawk Mitigations

All of the Navy’s T-45 Goshawks have been upgraded with the CRU-123 oxygen monitoring system, which checks the quality of air as it comes out the OBOGS concentrator to make sure it’s delivering the appropriate oxygen concentration. (U.S. Navy Photo by Liz Wolter)

Early in its investigation, the T-45 RCCA identified a primary contributing factor to oxygen-related PEs: low inlet pressure to the OBOGS concentrator, Luchtman said.

Program office engineers straightened the 90-degree bend in the inlet pipe and increased idle RPM on the engine.

“With the engine moving faster, it provides more air on the inlet side of the OBOGS concentrator. Those two things really eliminated the air-flow pressure issues with the OBOGS concentrator,” he said.

Another upgrade to the T-45 was the installation of the CRU-123 solid-state oxygen monitor in summer 2017.

“As the air comes out of the OBOGS concentrator, it passes through the monitor first. It’s a check on the quality of the air to make sure we’re delivering the appropriate oxygen concentration. If it’s incorrect, it gives the pilot a warning,” he said.

All T-45s have the CRU-123 and it’s working well, he added.

Physiological Monitors

“While the formal investigation has concluded, we are continuing to explore how we can optimize the human in the cockpit,” Luchtman said.

He is pushing for the development of physiological monitors that will show how the human is performing in real time, under temperature variances, under Gs, under pressure.

But he has learned that it is not as easy as it sounds.

“I’ve had to temper my enthusiasm because it takes a new approach to design sensors that will fit within the confines of the cockpit, survive the hostile environment and provide useable data,” he said.

Anything new must also be verified and validated before introduction to the fleet.

Despite the challenges, the Aircrew Systems Program Office is currently exploring five monitoring devices, which are in various stages of test, he said. 

The Navy is also working closely with the Air Force to identify a sensor for tactical aircraft that will not only provide useful data but will warn of an impending condition.

“We are depending on industry to help us develop and integrate the sensors into the cockpit, onto our flight gear and into our existing aircraft systems,” he said.

Way Forward

With the conclusion of the RCCA investigation, the functions of the PEAT will roll under the auspices of the Naval Safety Center at the end of April.

At that time, Luchtman is slated to take command of the Naval Safety Center to ensure continued flag oversight of physiological episodes.

“We are very thankful, not only to Naval Aviation leadership, but naval leadership as a whole and Congress for their support. There’s never been a question about resources when it comes to anything related to PE, and I do not see that changing.

“This remains Naval Aviation’s No. 1 safety priority and will continue to be until we’ve driven this rate down as low as we can.”

Andrea Watters is editor in chief of Naval Aviation News.  

Onboard Oxygen Generating System

Location of the T-6 Texan aircraft on-board oxygen generating system. U. S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Kyle

The Onboard Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) was the first target of the root cause corrective action (RCCA) analysis process to understand physiological episodes (PEs).

“There was a lot of theory and discussion of contamination early on,” said Rear Adm. Fredrick Luchtman, Navy lead for the Physiological Episodes Action Team (PEAT).

“We took our OBOGS concentrators apart and put them through rigorous testing. We collected more than 21,000 samples of air and determined that the OBOGS air is extremely clean and not prone to contamination,” he said.

He attributes some of the early confusion to the fact that the OBOGS does not technically generate oxygen.

Ambient air is pulled into the system and passes through two sieve beds. The filters hold the oxygen and purge the nitrogen, then the system allows the concentrated oxygen to pass to the pilot.

“There’s no chemical process in which chemicals or contaminants could be introduced. The system doesn’t work in reverse and it cannot deliver anything less than 21 percent concentrated oxygen because that’s what’s in ambient air,” Luchtman said.

All Navy tactical aircraft, including the T-6 Texan, T-45 Goshawk, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and F-35C Lightning II, use OBOGS concentrators, and several replacement systems are in the works, he said.

The T-6 currently is flying with the 105 model and has begun taking delivery of the 106A Concentrator, which allows for some data recording, Luchtman said.

The T-45 currently flies with the GGU-7 and will upgrade to the GGU-25 concentrator beginning in second quarter fiscal 2022. The F-18 currently flies with the GGU-12, which will be upgraded in 2023 to a Life Support Systems Integration, which will provide scheduled delivery of a graduated amount of oxygen that increases as altitude increases. — Andrea Watters

Fleet Finds Unique F/A-18 Diagnostics Invaluable

The ultimate goal is to integrate the Hornet Health Assessment and Readiness Tool into the aircraft’s numerous complex systems to help improve supply, maintenance and readiness postures for F/A-18s and EA-18Gs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz)

One year after first hitting the fleet, a unique F/A-18 analytical tool, Hornet Health Assessment and Readiness Tool (HhART), continues to benefit the warfighter and demonstrate how a mix of data analytics and engineering can serve as an accelerator for naval aircraft readiness.

“This cutting-edge technology will reduce unscheduled maintenance and make diagnostics and maintenance planning easier for the warfighter,” said Don Salamon, an engineer for the Physiological Episodes (PE) Integrated Product Team within the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office.

“While the inception of HhART stemmed from PE investigations, the resulting tool puts data to use in a practical, proactive way, directly supporting the ability to maintain increased aircraft readiness as well as maintenance and supply postures,” Salamon said.

HhART leverages aircraft and sensor data, maintenance information and advanced data analytics to create a health and performance dashboard display of the aircraft’s critical Environmental Control System (ECS). 

This information provides the fleet with enhanced prognostic and predictive capabilities to facilitate better troubleshooting and more efficient maintenance of this complex system of aircraft components. 

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) employed the tool and began surveilling the fleet in March 2019, providing squadrons with direct, proactive feedback and maintenance recommendations on flagged aircraft.

HhART became the top corrective action taken to combat PEs and after great initial success, the program rapidly expanded, leveraging data correlations and unique features identifying underperforming or failing systems ahead of the onboard aircraft prognostics, Salamon said.

He attributes its success to program office and NAVAIR leadership empowering and providing resource support to the multifaceted HhART Team, led by the PE IPT and comprised of data scientists and technical experts from NAVAIR, Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, Naval Sea Systems Command, the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, the Center for Naval Analyses and The Boeing Company. 

“This cross-functional and collaborative effort between Industry and government highlights the Navy’s organic capabilities to execute true applications of ‘big data’ and produce actionable results and outcomes,” said Capt. Jason Denney, F/A-18 and EA-18G Program manager.

After a successful year in the fleet, the HhART team is transitioning this same methodology to other aircraft systems that are primed to benefit from similar data analysis, such as fuel systems, flight controls, propulsion systems and generator control units—the current number one degrader for both the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G  Growler.

The tool provides operators and maintainers with an indication of issues or degradation of systems in near real-time, enabling a more proactive approach and quicker identification of trends that often inform supply chain management decisions.

The ultimate goal for HhART is integration directly into the aircraft’s numerous complex systems, further supporting improved supply, maintenance and readiness postures for F/A-18s and EA-18Gs. The team behind it is currently digging into the data analysis and engineering challenges to bring that plan to fruition.

“The HhART Team has done an amazing job in creating this program and we expect, with its continued development and expansion to other aircraft systems, that it will become an indispensable tool for maintaining increased readiness for our aircraft platforms,” Denney said.

Written by Erin Mangum with the  F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office.  

CMV-22B Ferry Flight Fuses Developmental, Operational Testing

The CMV-22B Osprey lands at NAS Patuxent River Feb. 2 after completing a ferry flight from Bell’s Military Aircraft Assembly & Delivery Center in Amarillo, Texas. U.S. Navy photo by Liz Mildenstein

The recent cross-country flight of the Navy’s new CMV-22B Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) variant of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft was not only a milestone for the program, but also demonstrated the effective fusion of developmental and operational test in a real-world environment.

Over a two-day flight totaling just over 6.5 hours in the air, pilots Lt. Cmdr. Steve “Sanchez” Tschanz, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21, and Cmdr. Kristopher “Junk” Carter of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 1, along with crew chief Naval Aircrewman (Mechanical) 1st Class Devon Heard flew the first CMV-22B from the Bell Military Aircraft Assembly & Delivery Center in Amarillo, Texas, to Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, in early February.

The first flight of the aircraft outside of the manufacturer’s test area mirrored many of the conditions that the aircraft will encounter when operational.

“It was a great opportunity for operational and developmental testers to work together on the same flight,” said Tschanz.

Carter agreed with Tschanz’ assessment. “The biggest litmus test I have when we start out on operational tests is to find a mission that is representative of what we’re going to do with the aircraft once it is in the fleet,” Carter said. “With this flight, we got an early look at operational testing while we’re also doing developmental tests.”

“From a crew chief’s perspective, on this trip I was able to see both the developmental test side and the operational side integrated in one,” said Heard, who was a 2nd class at the time of the flight and has since been promoted.

The first Navy CMV-22 Carrier Onboard Delivery Variant of the V-22 Osprey flies above the Chesapeake Bay March 9. U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt .

The role of developmental testing, which is the mission of HX-21, is to identify whether an aircraft or system meets the promised specifications. Operational testing, which is what VX-1 does, focuses on the ability of an aircraft or system to operate in the environments that it will encounter once it is deployed to the fleet.

Prior to the flight, Tschanz, Heard, Bell test pilot Andrew Bankston, and Naval Air Crewman (Mechanical) 2nd Class Trenton Olsheski conducted a series of developmental test flights to ensure the aircraft met its specifications. Following those test flights, it was time to deliver the aircraft to NAS Patuxent River.

Or, more accurately, almost time—the crew ended up waiting nearly a week for the weather to open up between Texas and Maryland. Because the aircraft was fitted with extensive test equipment, the flight was limited to clear weather and daylight hours.

On Saturday, Feb. 1, the weather finally cooperated and Tschanz, Carter and Heard flew first to Millington, Tennessee, for a refueling stop before continuing on to Patuxent River. Having flown together before, the three men quickly fell into a routine: while Tschanz was flying the aircraft, for example, Carter would be busy monitoring communications and Heard kept his eye on the weather.

The first Navy CMV-22 Carrier Onboard Delivery Variant of the V-22 Osprey flies above the Chesapeake Bay March 9. U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt .

The Osprey’s high-visibility paint scheme, which the Navy uses to help make it easier to identify noncombatant aircraft, was part of the attraction when the aircraft landed in Millington, where the Naval Support Activity Mid-South base is located.

“There’s usually a certain amount of interest when a unique aircraft flies into any airport where that type normally doesn’t operate,” Tschanz said. “But in this case it was even more fun because we landed and people said, ‘Oh, that’s a V-22,’ and then immediately you can see the gears start turning in their heads as they start to realize that something is different about it.”

After refueling, the crew departed in the afternoon, expecting to arrive at Patuxent River in the late afternoon. But approximately nine-tenths of the way home, the weather started closing in over their destination, and the crew diverted to Lynchburg, Virginia, to wait out the rain overnight. And like in Millington, Tschanz, Carter, and Heard found themselves instant celebrities as pilots and aviation enthusiasts descended on them to ask questions about their unique Osprey.

The following morning, Tschanz, Carter, and Heard flew through clear skies to land at NAS Patuxent River, bringing a successful close to the aircraft’s first cross-country flight.

“We have a lot of tests to do before we know everything about the airplane, but this initial look was great,” Carter said of the flight.

“There was a lot of excitement, eagerness and anxiousness to be able to fly the first CMV-22B back to HX-21,” Heard said. “Now we own it and we’re ready to move forward.”

Written by Paul Lagasse, Naval Test Wing Atlantic Communications

VX-20 Sunsets Its C-2A Greyhound

U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt

C-2A Greyhound BuNo 162142 made its final flight March 19 after 27 years with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20. The Navy is retiring the C-2A from the carrier onboard delivery role which is being replaced by the CMV-22B Osprey. There are currently 33 C-2s in the fleet, operated by the “Providers” of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30 located at Naval Air Station North Island, California, and the “Rawhides” of VRC-40 at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. The CMV-22B is expected to reach full operational capability in 2023 and replace the C-2A by 2024.  

U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Celebrates Its Diamond Jubilee

When Navy Cmdr. Sydney S. Sherby received orders in March 1945 to assume command of a brand-new Flight Test Training Program at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, he might not have guessed that 75 years later the program would grow into one of the world’s premier flight test institutions.

Today, the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) graduates more pilots, flight officers and engineers each year than the other three major domestic and international flight test schools combined and has supplied nearly 100 astronauts to the American space program. But he probably would not have been surprised.

Sherby, a naval flight instructor with a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had reported to NAS Patuxent River as chief project engineer the previous year. Almost immediately, the base’s commander handed Sherby a tough assignment: develop an understanding of how the Navy conducted flight test and how it could do it better.

During World War II, the Navy had consolidated its units for flight test, radio systems, armament and experimental aircraft at NAS Patuxent River. Sherby suggested the Navy take advantage of that consolidation by establishing a formal program of education for test pilots and engineers who would then go on to staff those units.

Cmdr. C.E. Giese, the base’s flight test officer, agreed with Sherby’s recommendation and tasked him with drafting a plan for the future flight test school—in just seven days. With the help of two other officers, Sherby developed the school’s first curriculum, which covered aerodynamic fundamentals and procedures for testing aircraft performance and assessing aircraft stability and control, plus a roster of necessary air and ground tests and a standardized reporting form. The proposed 10-week course involved 37 hours of classroom work and nine hours of flying over the course of three days a week.

Less than two weeks later, Sherby and his sole flight instructor, Lt. H.E. McNeely, welcomed the first group of 14 pilots and engineers—retroactively dubbed Class 0a—to the USNTPS’ first semester, during which the test pilots under instruction flew a motley assortment of fighters, bombers and trainers borrowed from the base’s flight test unit. At the end of May, each of the graduates received a diploma and a slide rule.

Another key figure in the school’s early history, Capt. Frederick M. Trapnell, arrived at Pax River to assume command of the Naval Air Test Center in 1946. Trapnell, a former flight test officer who had flown fighters from the Navy’s giant dirigible airships in the 1930s, attended Sherby’s classes and quickly recognized the program’s need for additional funding and resources. He recommended sufficient resources be allocated to establish a full-time course for about 30 students, with classes convening every nine months. Trapnell got his wish, and the school soon went into business full-time. NAS Patuxent River’s airfield is named Trapnell Field in his honor.

Written by Paul Lagasse, U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Communications.  

1) Between 1958 and 1975, the F8U/F-8 Crusader supersonic air superiority fighter provided students with experience testing high-speed flying and maneuvering characteristics (U.S. Navy photo). 2) A Grumman F6F Hellcat, which students flew for test evaluation during World War II, in flight near Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Md., 1944. ( U.S.Navy photo) .3) The Chance Vought F4U Corsair was at USNTPS from 1949 to 1952. (U.S. Navy photo.) 4) An aerial view of NAS Patuxent River with an F9F Panther, circa 1950s. (U.S. Navy  photo) 5) Douglas A-4D Skyhawk single-seat fighters were used for flight training from 1963 to 1994. (U.S. Navy  photo). 6) The backbone of jet flight training at USNTPS, the two-seat T-38 Talon, has been flying in its A, B and C variants since 1969. The school currently has 10 T-38Cs. (U.S. Navy  photo). 7) USNTPS has been flying the F/A-18 Hornet since 1984. Today, four F/A-18F Super Hornets are flown as part of the airborne systems syllabus for radar and weapons delivery evaluation. U.S. (U.S. Navy  photo).  8) Established in 1961, the military rotary syllabus is the only one of its kind in the U.S. and serves as the Army’s test pilot school. Here, a student and instructor conduct a preflight inspection of an OH-58 Kiowa. U.S. (U.S. Navy  photo).

The Flagship Publication of Naval Aviation