An answer for nearly everything …. but, don’t forget the umbrella!
Delivering a successful flight test is not just a ‘simple’ case of evaluating the performance and compliance of innovative concepts, new equipment or aircraft modifications. Far from it! Every test programme is different. Almost by definition, flight test is all about testing and evaluating the unknown and any test programme will have its own target outcomes and specific technical, operational and physical demands and constraints.
However, it’s not just a case of focussing on the equipment to be tested, as there are so many other factors to consider before any flight test gets off the ground. What concept testing and pre-flight assessments are possible? What flight test options are available and what regulatory conditions will need to be satisfied? What about the experience and specialist expertise of the most appropriate flight test team? What about project timing, and the availability of the most suitable aircraft, test pilots and flight test engineers? What about the need for dedicated in-flight instrumentation? What about inevitable budget considerations? And, come to that, what about the weather?!!
I’m not aware of any flight test service provider that has complete control over Mother Nature! However, having an inherent capability to rise to the specific challenges of each project and to manage all other variables effectively and efficiently at all times is quite another matter. It demands strength in depth, genuine agility and a near-perfect balance between proven experience and adding value through provision of modern and dedicated rotary and fixed wing aircraft or in depth expertise of legacy platforms.
With a history in flight test that dates back to the very early days of manned flight, QinetiQ has continued to invest, adapt and develop its capabilities in this specialist field by building on its extensive experience in the military sector. In recent years, this has seen a progressive move towards flight test using civil aircraft. EASA and CAA approval and the addition of new aircraft - such as a Leonardo AW139 and Pilatus PC21 and the extensive modification of existing aircraft such as Avro RJ100 – fitted with a comprehensive suite of dedicated instrumentation and mission systems are now helping the company to set a new benchmark in both civil and military flight test. The cost-benefits for customers from such additional capabilities are significant. Equally, operational capacity and the availability of aircraft and specialist personnel are assured, as all test pilots, flight test engineers, system analysts and the fleet of aircraft are all part of the QinetiQ family.
As well as catering and adding value for all categories of flight test on fixed and rotary wing aircraft and the full range of test activities - from first flight of a new aircraft and full certification campaigns to the testing of new modifications and retro-fitted systems for existing aircraft – the company also has authority to issue its own Permits to Fly. This greatly improves the efficiency and flexibility of any flight test programme, without compromising operational safety and rigour.
The implicit insight and experience in systems integration and test that underpins such approvals also provides significant advantages for customers operating at the cutting edge of new or novel technologies. So too do dedicated resources such as the production of custom-instrumentation, environmental and electromagnetic compatibility test facilities and anechoic chambers as well as decades of experience in specialist areas such as night-vision technologies.
These ongoing developments and new service options are not only increasing the accessibility, affordability and availability of flight test capabilities, but they are also simplifying the process and creating new opportunities for innovators and manufacturers alike. Successful completion of highly complex programmes including evaluation of an air dropped guided inert article and Manned/Unmanned Teaming for the Ministry of Defence demonstrates just how far flight test has progressed in recent years. It also shows how it is now possible to manage and control those pesky variables that previously challenged the viability and effectiveness of so many earlier flight test programmes – except, of course, when it comes to the weather!