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For the film, see Test Pilot .
A test pilot is an aviator who flies new and modified aircraft in specific maneuvers, allowing the results to be measured and the design to be evaluated.

Test pilots may work for military organizations or private, (mostly aerospace) companies. Testing military aircraft, in particular, is regarded as the most challenging and risky flying conducted in peacetime.

In the 1950s, test pilots were being killed at the rate of about one a week, but the risks have shrunk to a fraction of that, thanks to the maturation of aircraft technology, better ground-testing and simulation of aircraft performance, and, lately, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to test experimental aircraft features. Still, piloting experimental aircraft remains more dangerous than most other types of flying.


A test pilot must be able to:
  • Understand a test plan;
  • Stick to a test plan, flying a plane in a highly specific way;
  • Carefully document the results of each test;
  • Have an excellent feel for the aircraft, and sense exactly how it is behaving oddly if it is doing so;
  • Solve problems quickly if anything goes wrong with the aircraft during a test;
  • Cope with many different things going wrong at once.

Test pilots must have an excellent knowledge of aeronautical engineering, in order to understand how they are tested and why. Test pilots must be above average pilots with excellent analytical skills and the ability to fly accurately whilst following a flight plan.


Test flying as a systematic activity started during the First World War, at the Royal Aircraft Establishmentmarker (RAE) in the United Kingdommarker. During the 1920s, test flying was further developed by the RAE in the UK, and by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the United Statesmarker. In the 1950s, NACA was transformed into the National Aeronautics and Space Administrationmarker, or NASA. During these years, as work was done into aircraft stability and handling qualities, test flying evolved towards a more qualitative scientific profession.

The world's oldest test pilot school is what is now called the Empire Test Pilots' School, at RAF Boscombe Downmarker in the UK. In America, the United States Air Force Test Pilot School is located at Edwards Air Force Basemarker, the United States Naval Test Pilot School is located at Naval Air Station Patuxent Rivermarker, Maryland and EPNER (Ecole du Personnel Navigant d'Essai et de Reception/School for flight test and acceptance personnel), the French test pilot school, located in Istresmarker, France. Another school is the private National Test Pilot Schoolmarker, located in Mojavemarker, California.

Notable test pilots

Some notable test pilots include:
Marina Popovich
Awards made to notable test pilots include the international Iven C. Kincheloe Award made by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

See also


  1. Warsitz, Lutz: THE FIRST JET PILOT - The Story of German Test Pilot Erich Warsitz (p. 125), Pen and Sword Books Ltd., England, 2009
  2. Mason 1991, p.333.
  • Hallion, Richard P.Test Pilots: Frontiersmen of Flight. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8094-3326-8.
  • Warsitz, Lutz: THE FIRST JET PILOT - The Story of German Test Pilot Erich Warsitz, Pen and Sword Books Ltd., England, 2009, ISBN 978-1844158188

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