What do test pilots sound like?
January 24, 2006 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I need to know about test pilot preflight procedures.

I'm working on a graphic novel project about aircraft designers in the early 60s. For verisimilitude, I need more information about the preflight (or in-flight, I suppose) specifics of test flights. Like, what sort of checklists would the crews/pilots go through before taking an experimental plane up? What would the radio chatter sound like? What sort of jargon would they use?

Any pointers to resources, anecdotes, or other nuggets of information would be really, really welcome.
posted by COBRA! to Technology (8 answers total)
 
Hmm...I seem to remember some stuff like this in The Right Stuff. Might want to rewatch that.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:05 AM on January 24, 2006


I'd also recommend watching the documentary on SpaceShipOne called "Black Sky" - that really is test piloting in its purest form.
posted by cubedweller at 9:54 AM on January 24, 2006


I'd also recommend reading Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins' memoir Carrying the Fire -- there's a little bit in there about his time at the USAF Flight Test Center at Edwards. (Plus it's a witty and wise memoir generally.)
posted by alumshubby at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2006


As the son of a retired aerospace engineer who logged more than 2000 hours in the back end of the Grumman Hawkeye while it was being developed in the 60's and 70's... Things were a lot less restrictive back then. For example, they would fly with only a pilot (no co-pilot); today both are required. Or, if they needed an engineer on a flight to check a piece of hardware, they'd just take him up. Nowadays, no one sets foot in the plane until they have had extensive training.

Hearing my Dad tell stories about his experiences sometimes makes me very thankful he's still around today.

COBRA - If you want specifics, email me, and I'll check with my Dad.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:55 AM on January 24, 2006


Checklist, checklist, checklist. Everything is about the checklist. Preflight is following the checklist to the letter. Both preflight, and inflight, they follow the checklist. If an item on the checklist doesn't check out, they follow the checklist to (a) recover, and (b) find the fault. Not necessarily in that order.

I didn't have much to do with test pilots, but from the little I saw of them, they're a strange mix of mad bastard and pedant.

Not sure if it'll help, but there's a story that I heard that might be apocryphal or maybe not (note that I was a techy on Army helicopters and this is about an RAF fastjet test pilot, so take it and the details with a pinch of salt):

At RAF St. Athan, a large RAF base in South Wales, there's a fastjet that's ready for test. It's a twin seater, Harrier trainer, or something like that. Senior test pilot is preflighting when he hears a JT (Junior Tech) mouthing off about how the test flight was the easy bit, it was putting the aircraft together that was the difficult bit. Test pilot tells the JT to put on a flight suit and grab a helmet, because he's going for a ride. The JT is duly strapped into the back seat. Sometime later, after a test flight over the Severn Estuary, the plane lands. The JT had (so the story went) actually gone green, and was covered head to toe in vomit. He had to be carried away, barely conscious.
posted by mad judge pickles at 11:59 AM on January 24, 2006


Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far... a lot of good stuff. The movie and book recommendations have been passed on to Netflix and the Mpls Public Library.
posted by COBRA! at 2:26 PM on January 24, 2006


In addition the materials above, I'd suggest archives and press offices of military (testing facilities, test pilot schools) and civilian organizations that are and were involved with testing.

If you're looking for jargon, it'd be helpful to know what kind of aircraft you are interested in: jet, helicopter, propellor, single/multi engined. What type of testing you are interested in would also be helpful.
posted by rudyfink at 3:44 PM on January 24, 2006


Response by poster: If you're looking for jargon, it'd be helpful to know what kind of aircraft you are interested in: jet, helicopter, propellor, single/multi engined. What type of testing you are interested in would also be helpful.

I'm looking for test flights of a prototype jet spyplane, 2 engines. A lot of my research has focussed on the development of the SR-71, if that helps.
posted by COBRA! at 6:44 AM on January 25, 2006


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