7–11 January 2019
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego,
San Diego, California

Balancing Piloted Flight Tests Against Automation

Posted: 11 January 2017, 9:00 p.m. EST

Panelists: Moderator Chris Cotting, flight sciences technical expert, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School; Albion Bowers, chief scientist, NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center; James "Buddy" Denham, senior scientific technical manager, Aeromechanics Division, Naval Air Systems Command; Bill Gray, chief pilot, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School; John Langford, chairman and CEO, Aurora Flight Sciences; Shawn Whitcomb, systems engineer, Advanced Development Programs, Lockheed Martin; Craig Woolsey, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

by Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

Flight testing is vitally important to advance aircraft development, and the industry should not overly rely on machines to do that testing, a panel of experts said Jan. 11 at the 2017 AIAA SciTech Forum in Grapevine, Texas.

The "Transitioning Your Idea From the Lab to Flight Test" panel examined the need for flight testing, the ways testing is conducted and the need for humans in the test process. The panel concluded that humans must be part of the flight testing process.

"A human can see problems before a machine can," noted James "Buddy" Denham, senior scientific technical manager of Naval Air Systems Command's Aeromechanics Division.

However, John Langford, chairman and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, said the one advantage a machine has is that it carries information of all past flights of a product.

"A human pilot has thousands of hours of flight," he said. "The machine has hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hours, to rely on."

The panel acknowledged that the aerospace industry will have to work hard to find the optimal balance between humans and fully autonomous systems.

Lab-to-Flight-Test-Panel2_SciTech2017Participants in the panel discussion, "Transitioning Your Idea From the Lab to Flight Test," Jan 12. at the 2017 AIAA SciTech Forum, in Grapevine, Texas.

Panelists also said aerospace has become a very risk adverse industry, which can hamper creativity. But, Bill Gray, chief pilot at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, said that risk is a cost and part of the process.

However, he said, "If I can do a test and not take risks I don't have to take, I won't take them."

Panelists also offered career advice for students and young professionals looking to get involved in flight testing. They said if students want to get involved in flight testing, they need to find ways to involve themselves now so that they can be hired by companies as flight test pilots and engineers someday.

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