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QinetiQ – EPTS Delivering Powerful Strategic Advantage By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.




Apparently challenged around three years ago by the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier to innovate and see whether they needed to change the way that test pilot courses designed and operated by the Empire Test Pilot School (ETPS) at MOD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire are delivered, parent company QinetiQ rose to the challenge.

Back in July this year and shortly before he handed over the role of Chief of the Air Staff to his successor Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, ACM Sir Stephen Hillier was back at MOD Boscombe having been invited to see for himself the now much transformed and highly invested state-of-the-art test pilot training facilities. 

ETPS is today an extremely well invested centre of excellence for fixed wing and rotary test pilot and engineer training. The upgraded facilities and the various new fixed wing and rotary assets acquired demonstrate very clearly that QinetiQ has not only risen to the challenge set but also that EPTS looks well set now to deliver years of powerful strategic advantage for students, clients and for QinetiQ.

Not only did QinetiQ decide to invest in new fixed wing and rotary aircraft capability, maintenance and support facilities but also across the board in order to create first class training facilities for test pilot and engineer training that could reduce cost of operation whilst at the same time, maintaining relevance of ETPS as the world’s leading rotary and fixed wing test pilot and engineer training centre of excellence.   

Formed over 75 years ago as the world’s first test pilot school, ETPS has during an already long and illustrious history trained students for over 32 different nations. Providing flight test training for both military and civilian customers and pilots that qualifies and enables EPTS graduates to run flight test programmes that for example, provide crucial information that can optimise aircraft and flight performance, the core ETPS capabilities comprise test and evaluation, support to acquisition and transformation programmes.

Working  in collaboration with industry partners nationally and internationally, and in the UK with the MOD and having long held a cherished reputation for training of pilots and engineers that is second to none, having myself been unable to attend the formal opening of the now much transformed training facilities back in July it was with great pleasure that I accepted an invitation last month to visit EPTS at MOD Boscombe Down to see at first hand the results of the various investments that QinetiQ has made.  

The new facilities not only include new rotary and fixed wing aircraft assets but upgraded classroom facilities and the unique digital Learning Management System. Making greater use of synthetic based training QinetiQ has also chosen to modernise its fleet of rotary and fixed wing training aircraft. Using a fleet of two brand new Pilatus PC-21’s aircraft with state-of-the-art avionics, fully integrated Flight Test Instrumentation systems plus the two Grob G120TP aircraft that act as the basic training platform facility, it is worth noting that QinetiQ also own two BAE Systems Avro jets, each with full flight test instrumentation enabling students to train in large commercial aircraft test techniques in order to meet both military and civil (CS25) requirements.

Together with fourth generation SAAB Gripen aircraft capability, ETPS is as far as I am aware the only global test pilot training school that has combat aircraft capability enabling students to train for example, in techniques required to evaluate complex fast jet aircraft requirements across the board. The Saab Gripen is also used for testing of aero systems, advanced flight control systems, handling qualities and performance.  

For the rotary test pilot training QinetiQ owns two Augusta A109E with digital engine control and glass cockpits with integrated real-time instrumentation data together with four brand new Airbus H125 B3e single engine helicopters for commercial pilot training and, operated by NRC in Canada, one Bell 412 helicopter which is used for training students in investigation of handling quality aspects in the low speed regime.

The new modular course now in operation at EPTS are delivered by expert tutors that, in the majority of cases, have themselves come to the organisation from a military aircraft background. The duration of courses varies according to requirement. For instance, the Military Class A/EASA Category 1 Fixed Wing Test pilot course during which a minimum of ten aircraft types and a minimum of 100 hours being flown by students will last between 10 and 12 months. The course will include Advanced Flight Test and Military Test and Evaluation and include Electronic Warfare, Weapons Systems Military Integrated Systems Helmet Mounted Displays, Simulator Assessment, Aerial Chase and Radar.

Delivery of a course of this nature will primarily be located from Boscombe Down although additional content requirement will typically be delivered at locations in the USA, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands. Designed to enable high performing pilots to attain a full flight test rating in order for them to be able to deliver test and evaluation throughout a platform lifecycle, including experimental flight test phase, students attending this course will already have at least 750 hours experience as a pilot in command before attending EPTS.

Shorter ‘Fixed Wing’ courses include Military Class A / EASA Cat 2, Flight Test Engineer Military Class A /EASA Cat 1, and a shorter Military Class B / EASA Cat 2 courses lasting four to six months. Rotary Wing Test Pilot courses include Military Class A /EASA Cat 1 with duration of up to 12 months, 8 different rotary helicopter types and at least 100 hours being actually flown. As with ‘Fixed Wing’ various shorter military pilot and flight test engineer courses together with civilian courses are provided.     

Having been briefed on both operation and courses offered, walked through the highly invested aircraft and student training facilities, talked with some of the EPTS Qualified Flying Instructors and later with one of the most senior EPTS rotary flying instructors in one of the Airbus H125 helicopters I can say little other than that I was extremely impressed with all that I was able to observe throughout this most interesting day.

QinetiQ has been absolutely right in my view to invest in the further long-term development of EPTS both nationally and internationally.

By reputation, ETPS has always been in a class of its own but the investment in its centre of excellence and MOD Boscombe Down will in my view pay enormous dividends in the years ahead. Put simply, EPTS is now very well placed to deliver powerful strategic advantage not only for the students, various international air force customers, MOD and industry partners but also for QinetiQ as a whole.

CHW (London – 23rd September 2019)                      

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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