“First inside an unknown land”
What needs to be tested? Where are the weaknesses in the system?
The flight testing engineers and pilots check the plane under every possible extreme condition Before a new system makes it way to IAF squadrons, it undergoes a series of rigorous tests at the Flight Testing Center, located at the Tel Nof airbase. Flight testing engineers check the systems in the air and on the ground through experiments that push boundaries
The challenges facing the soldiers of the Flight Testing Center are not the standard threats operational squadrons face: It is not a squadron that has to cross borders, maneuver on the northern front, or deals with surface-to-air missiles. At the Flight Testing Center, the challenge is examining the systems that are about to enter the IAF, pushing the envelope, and proper and safe conducting of flight tests.
For example, the “Globes” system, which was installed recently on many of the IAFs transport planes, first underwent a series of tests at the Flight Testing Center, at the end of which the system was deemed effective and safe for the IAF and its planes. But this process, which takes a number of weeks or even months, starts first with the planning the experiment and asking fundamental questions: What needs to be tested? Where are the weaknesses in the system?
Don’t Try This At Home!
A testing pilot and a flight testing engineer are responsible for every experiment. The testing team decides how it will examine the system and designs a testing plan that includes different flight scenarios and, of course, emphasizes safety. Before the flying phase, the team analyzes the risks in the scenarios with which the system will have to contend. Afterwards, the team reaches the “moment of truth”: the flight and system-testing phase.
The flight testing engineers do not always try to find the weaknesses in the systems undergoing examination; many times they test the systems in extreme conditions. For example, when new munitions arrive, the Flight Testing Center team must examine the effect the munitions have on the limitations of the aircraft. The flight testing engineers and pilots check the plane under every possible extreme condition: from flights at the highest and lowest altitude to flights at the highest velocity. That way, when the munitions arrive at the operational squadrons, the aircrew members in the squadron will know that they can use them in any extreme flight scenario.
The people behind the scenes, the flight testing engineering, are mostly graduates of the “Talpiot” program or soldier students. But unlike other engineers around them, their work also includes familiarity with the inside of a cockpit and its systems. In accordance with the squadron’s motto, “First in an unknown land”, they experience using new weapons and systems before they reach the ranks of the IAF.
During their initial training, which lasts several months, the testing engineers learn the job of a flight testing engineer through instructional flights and training on different planes and helicopters. They acquire the necessary knowledge of the speaking procedures over the two-way radio with the control towers and even of aerial spatial orientation. “I need to know how to look out the window and know where I am”, explains Captain Dima, flight testing engineer at the Flight Testing Center. “There is a difference between the view from the air and the view from the ground. Also, we learn about all the devices in the cockpit: speed meters, altitude meters, etc.” Additionally, the engineers pass a skydiving course, a course on escaping planes that have crashed in the sea, and undergo medical tests at the Aerospace Medical Unit. Afterwards, the engineers undergo training on the F-16, located at the airbase in Hatzor. At the end of the process, they get to wear the auxiliary staff pin, and begin planning experiments on the future IAF systems by themselves.