Global exchange unites flight test community
August 18, 2014
By Katie Starck
Colleges are not the only organizations with exchange programs. The Army participates in the Military Personnel Exchange Program and the Redstone Test Center has played a part in this Department of Defense program for years, exchanging an Army experimental test pilot for an experimental test pilot in the British armed forces.
The next Army officer from RTC to go to the United Kingdom, Maj. John David Hnyda, is preparing to become part of this tradition. He reports to the Ministry of Defence Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, England on Oct. 10, where he will spend the next three years.
At Boscombe Down, Hnyda will be part of the Rotary Wing Test and Evaluation Squadron, primarily flying CH-47 Chinooks. The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior is currently his primary aircraft, but as the OH-58D is being cycled out of the Army, Hnyda is transitioning to the Chinook. He is currently attending a 10-week CH-47D Chinook Aircraft Qualification Course at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. The course wraps up in September right before his departure to the U.K.
One of his missions while part of the MPEP is to help the British armed forces make the transition from a traditional "round steam gauge" cockpit in the Chinook to a fully digital cockpit equipped with liquid crystal flight displays. He will take part in the software upgrade testing and help to refine the cockpit design. The Army operates the CH-47F and MH-47G, both with fully digital cockpits.
This cutting edge cockpit upgrade is one of the major reasons Hnyda wanted to take part in the MPEP. He says working with British Rotary Wing Squadron will give him a chance to look at the acquisition process from a completely different perspective.
"I wanted this assignment half for the chance to learn from a different perspective on program management and aircraft testing and half for the experience of living abroad," Hnyda said.
Essentially any experimental test pilot or "XP" that graduates from the U.S., the U.K. or the French test pilot schools have the same basic flight test skill set; the three test pilot schools have a relationship that results in a standardized syllabi. The flight test techniques and procedures among all the schools are similar, but the scale of flight test organizations differ.
For example, there are only two bases in the U.K. that conduct flight test for all the British armed forces, one for rotary wing and one for fixed wing. In the U.S., there are several bases that deal with flight test for each branch of the military. Additionally, at Rotary Wing Test and Evaluation Squadron in the U.K. there are about 15 XPs, and that includes the exchange officer, while at RTC alone there are more than 35 XPs at any given time.
Included in those 35 RTC XPs is British exchange pfficer Maj. Mark Chivers. Chivers started his exchange at RTC in January 2013 and will remain with the organization until January 2016. Chivers has been an XP for 10 years, and before taking part in the exchange program he was an instructor at the Empire Test Pilot School at Boscombe Down. Before that, he commanded a squadron similar to RTC's Aviation Flight Test Directorate called 667 "Development and Trials" Squadron Army.
The one-for-one exchange of test pilots began with Chinook pilots, but recently the U.S. has been requesting Apache pilots like Chivers as the demand for Apache testing has increased. There are a few differences between the U.K. and the U.S. versions of the Apache. The U.K. version of the Apache has a different engine and a software package similar to the older U.S. Block I Apache. Chivers flies the AH-64E and the AH-64D at RTC. The U.K. is considering purchasing the AH-64E from the U.S. in the near future, making Chivers' time here even more valuable as he can take what he learns about the E model back with him.
"I volunteered to take part in MPEP in part because it meant I could remain in a flying appointment, whereas in the U.K. I would probably have moved to a desk job, but also for the chance to see how other countries conduct flight test," Chivers said.
He says the exchange has been a useful link between the two countries because the U.K. is highly unlikely to deploy on operations without the U.S. The MPEP is not limited to just the United Kingdom. It applies to all of the United States' allies to strengthen those alliances and relationships in support of global strategy.
RTC has continued to play a role in this program as the constant exchange between countries helps to bring the global flight test community together. This allows both sides to learn new techniques and innovations in flight testing, resulting in overall success. Through these exchanges and alliances, not only does RTC improve, but the strength of the U.S. and our allies as a team does as well.
RTC, a subordinate command of the Army Test and Evaluation Command, provides technical expertise, state-of-the-art facilities, and capabilities to plan, conduct, analyze, and report the results of tests on missile and aviation systems, sensors, subsystems and components.