Test Pilot

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Test Pilot


Flying for most of us is quite a treat. Being up in the air heading to new and exciting destinations is thrilling for tourists, but for test pilots, it can be even more exciting.

Test pilots get to fly planes no one has ever flown before. Working for the military as well as for private airplane manufacturing companies, test pilots take up planes with innovative construction, new computers and flight systems, as well as military planes with advanced weapons capabilities. Test pilots judge strength, stamina, handling, reliability, as well as the functioning of systems like automatic pilots, in-flight refueling, emergency landings, and other emergency situations. Test pilots take up new and modified planes and really push the limits, doing things that a regular pilot would never dream of doing.

They have the tests and tricks all planned out before they climb into the cockpit, of course. They have spent months working with plans, calculating fuel and altitudes, and organizing the tests. They also must document their findings in extensive reports, and then recommend any changes that need to be made to the parts of the plane. And then they must take the plane up once more, and try it all over again.

Flying an aircraft can be fun, exciting, dangerous, and interesting when it's a regular plane. Piloting an unknown, brand new plane can be even more fun, exciting, dangerous, and interesting. It is not a career to step up to lightly, though; carrying a heavy amount of responsibility is the only way you'll get to soar.
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  Interests and Skills  
Test pilots must be confident in their skills, with good leadership qualities and the ability to work well with others. They must be level-headed, and be able to make decisions under pressure. They should enjoy flying, have good spatial perception, motor skills, and excellent eyesight, with or without glasses. They should enjoy math, science, and taking risks. They need to have excellent hearing, be in good health, and have mechanical abilities.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Calculate and review test flight plans
  • Meet with any flight crew
  • Check emergency systems, radios, fuel load, etc., before take-off
  • Take pre-planned risks, simulate mistakes and malfunctions in air
  • Monitor flight systems
  • Write detailed reports about test findings and make recommendations
  • Test pilots have many important tasks to complete every day. They are in charge of ensuring that new and modified planes and aircraft systems function properly and safely. They fly the planes fast, hard, and take them through preplanned "emergencies" to see how they will react to situations in-flight. They must then write detailed technological reports on their findings.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Test pilots divide their working hours between testing aircraft and writing reports, and planning test procedures in offices. They also attend regular meetings to discuss findings and safety issues. They are employed by private aircraft production companies as well as the military, and may test planes alone or with a co-pilot.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Test pilots can work for the military or for private aircraft manufacturers. They can work as pilots, with small charter companies, or fly with major airlines. They can fly personal jets or company planes, or become flight instructors, or helicopter pilots. Some may choose to join the military and use their skills to deliver food, supplies, or other forms of relief aid, as well as weapons. With additional training, test pilots may choose to stop flying, and become air traffic controllers.

  Educational Paths  
Flying an aircraft can be learned either in private, civilian flying schools or in the military. Most people choose the private flight school route.

While a university education isn't required of aircraft pilots, it's always an advantage, as is a college or technical diploma. Once you're done with that, you'll need to pursue the minimum licensing requirement for airline pilots: a commercial pilot's license with night endorsement, instrument flight rating, and a radio telephone (restricted) license. You can get these after many, many hours in the air, training with a recognized instructor. This can get you some work, but in order to fly with an airline, you will need an airline transport pilot's license with multi-engine endorsement and Class I instrument rating. You'll also need to pass a physical fitness test.

After years of experience with civilian or air force planes, you will need to attend a test pilot training course. Those pilots accepted usually have a degree in engineering, as well as the right personality for test flying. The course generally takes about one year to complete.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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