Training as a flight test engineer (FTE) for the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (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.

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,” Squadron Leader Abbott said.

“We are a mission-critical part of a wider group of flight test aircrew, which also includes qualified test pilots and flight test system specialists.

“However, the role of an FTE differs by virtue of being trained by experienced aerospace engineers.”

Training is completed through courses at one of a number of test pilot schools in the United Kingdom and the United States.

“You get to fly a variety of aircraft and receive the education required to make you an effective FTE at ARDU,” Squadron Leader Abbott said.

“The highly specialised technical and airborne skills that flight test engineers provide Defence continue to enable our warfighting capabilities in the context of a fifth-generation Air Force.”

Squadron Leader Abbott 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,” he said.

“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.

“You still have every opportunity that is afforded to you as an engineer, however, knowledge and experience is gained in various areas that opens endless possibilities.

“Being an FTE at ARDU means my career reaches new heights every day.”

ARDU FTE’s 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.

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,” Wing Commander Noblet said.

“On return, they will go through further training to gain insight into the capability lifecycle, test and evaluation processes in Defence and PC-21 operations.

“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.”