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RAAF flight test engineers critical to 5th-gen air force capabilities

A KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport aricraft and E-7A Wedgetail conduct air-to-air refuelling testing (Source: Flight Lieutenant Drew Abbott - Dept of Defence)

As the Royal Australian Air Force transitions to an integrated fifth-generation fighting force, flight test engineers with the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) have emerged as a key human element in the transformation process.

Training as a flight test engineer (FTE) for the ARDU could mean becoming a key catalyst for a fifth-generation air force.


Each year, the Air Warfare Centre sends a group of pilots, engineering officers or air combat officers overseas to train in the unique and specialised role of an FTE.

ARDU FTEs have worked on various air-to-air refuelling clearances, certification testing and initial operational testing for the F-35A Lightning II, C-27J Spartan, P-8A Poseidon, EA-18G Growler and the PC-21.

Executive Officer ARDU, and FTE, Squadron Leader Drew Abbott, said FTE positions allowed personnel to be at the leading edge of Air Force’s future capabilities.

"The role of an FTE is a vital crew role for test activities and requires flying currency and proficiency in order to maintain airmanship and flight-test specific competencies," SQNLDR Abbott said.



Training is completed through courses at one of a number of test pilot schools in the UK and the US.

"You get to fly a variety of aircraft and receive the education required to make you an effective FTE at ARDU," SQNLDR Abbott added. 

He said the experiences he had gained through the ARDU’s tasking had resulted in being part of test programs on all Air Force’s platforms and numerous international test programs.

"The beauty about flight test is that it touches almost every area of Air Force. The role is so diverse – one week I was working on the 1914 Bristol Boxkite Replica for the Centenary of Military Aviation and then the next a high-performance test program for F/A-18A/B Hornets," SQNLDR Abbott said. 

Commanding Officer ARDU, Wing Commander Matthew Noblet, said he was looking forward to welcoming the next generation of FTE candidates.

"The experiences and competencies FTE gain on the long course prepares them well for developing a career within flight test. On return, they will go through further training to gain insight into the capability life cycle, test and evaluation processes in Defence and PC-21 operations," WGCDR Noblet explained. 

"The highly specialised technical and airborne skills that FTE provide Defence continue to enable our warfighting capabilities in the context of a fifth-generation air force."

RAAF flight test engineers critical to 5th-gen air force capabilities
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