In 1972, Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) first started training pilots of the Indian Air Force for production testing. Three years later, senior ASTE officers visited ETPS and studied its training methods. These were eventually used to start a course for experimental test flying in 1976.
The IAF Test Pilots School, co-located with ASTE at Bangalore, conducts Experimental Flight Test Course (11 months ) for Test Pilots (TP) and Flight Test Engineers (FTE) from the Air Force, Naval Aviation and Army Aviation. The school is one among the eight recognized test pilots school in the world to impart flight test training.
There are two streams for training— Rotary Wing and Fixed Wing. Hence, there are four entry streams — RW TP, RW FTE, FW TP and FW FTE. The FTEs have two sub-streams — FTE and FTE (Avionics). Occasionally, under a special arrangement, engineers from non-military organisations involved with aviation such as DRDO, NAL or HAL also get admitted for the FTE course.
Students are taught academics in the classroom and laboratories, and numerous flight test techniques are honed in aircraft, simulators and laboratories. The students are evaluated through written and oral examinations, written and oral reports, and graded flying exercises. The training imparted during the course is both practical as well as theoretical. Trained personnel can easily interact with both the operator and the designer. The courses include over 500 hours of lectures and 100 to 150 hours of flying on a wide variety of aircraft. AFTPS is unique in the world in being able to offer aircraft types both from the Western and Eastern Blocs. The school teaches flight test techniques on instrumented aircraft, which are carefully selected for each test exercise so as to bring out all the relevant flight testing aspects. In-flight data recording uses modern digital instrumentation. Students are required to fly even unfamiliar aircraft types as pilots in command. This is inescapable for single seater aircraft. Where a second pilot is needed, he does not have to be an instructor. The challenge is for the trainee to cope well with a new type of aircraft. Only the best pilots available are admitted to the course after a careful and stringent selection process. Different flight test exercises give an excellent opportunity to the students to assimilate flight test techniques and prepare them for their future assignments.
Though the courses are arduous, they are very rewarding because IAFTPS exposes students to a field many don’t even know exists. By the end of the course, one easily appreciates the intricacies involved in designing as well as flight testing of an aircraft or a system. The formulation of a sound training philosophy has richly contributed to the production of competent flight test crew from the school. Emphasis is laid on working together as a flight test team.
The school is in close proximity of various aerospace research and development establishments as well as aircraft design and manufacturing facilities. This is of great help in showing trainees what lies ahead as Test pilots and Flight Test Engineers.
The school operates and trains on aircraft such as Hawk-132, HJT-32 (Kiran), Mig-21, Su-30 MKI, Jaguar, Mirage-2000, AN-32, DO-228, HS-748, Mi-17 1V, ALH and Cheetah (Aloutte-II). The course also involves exposure to prototype aircraft at HAL such as LCA Tejas, Light Combat Helicopter etc as well as other aircraft operated by IAF, Indian Navy and Indian Army.
The pilot candidate must be experienced (over 1000 hours of flying) and have a strong background in science and engineering. The engineer candidate must over 6 years of experience and have an aptitude to fly and work in an airborne environment. Both get admitted after a tough selection process which includes written test, interview, presentation and flight test aptitude assessment by instructors at IAFTPS.
On completion of the Flight Test Course , the Flight Test Engineers stay back at the IAFTPS for another year to complete the Project Part of M.Tech under Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Belgavi, Karnataka. They are then awarded an Master of Technology (M.Tech) degree in Aerospace Engineering with specialization in Flight Testing.
Apart from the regular ‘Long Course’, IAFTPS also conducts short 3- month courses for pilots and engineers for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) testing as well as Production Test Pilots (PTP) to meet the needs of the industry.