Flight Test Engineering

Flight Test Engineering


First Helicopter Course at Patuxent River Site (July 2018)


First Flight Test Course at Eglin AFB Site (May 2018)


MELBOURNE, FLA. — Florida Institute of Technology just completed a graduate short course in Fixed-Wing Airplane Performance Flight Test Engineering at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

The short course was conducted as part of the Eglin Academy from May 7-25. The first seven days consisted of flying labs and academic lectures. The focus of the remaining days was online completion of lab reports.

Flight test engineering is a discipline focused on evaluation of both new aviation platforms and modifications of existing aircraft. The short course examines flight test engineering techniques to determine airplane performance. It includes actual flights in a Florida Tech Cherokee Six aircraft for data collection by students. The short course presents data analysis and interpretation methods, and uses airplane performance theory to develop the equations necessary to standardize flight test data.

The Florida Tech instructor was Ralph Kimberlin. Kimberlin is no stranger to Eglin, as one of his first active-duty assignments was at the Northwest Florida base. The short course was based on Kimberlin’s textbook, Flight Testing of Fixed-Wing Aircraft.

The first Eglin students for this short course were Air Force officers, an Air Force civilian engineer and flight test engineers from Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation. The course was offered as continuing education for academic credit. As a result, credits can transfer into either the Florida Tech Certificate program or the Master of Science in Flight Test Engineering (MS FTE).

“It is a huge win for the Eglin AFB community to have a world-class flying short course operating off of our flight line. The time and cost savings over having to travel to remote sites for this training are significant,” said Nathan Cook, chief test engineer of the 40th Flight Test Squadron. “Furthermore, the potential for a future degree program here at Eglin presents a great opportunity to allow our test engineers to dive deeper into the flight test discipline and satisfy important career milestones at the same time.”

Florida Tech Featured at NTSB Panel on Loss of Control (April 2018)


High Flying Research in Austria (July 2017)

“Loss of control” is the number one safety concern for small, general aviation aircraft, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, with a fatal crash averaging once every three days. But Florida Tech research could help improve these grim statistics by looking at warning and safety systems that could alert pilots to aerodynamic stall, where the main wing loses lift causing the nose to drop. As part of a $341,000 FAA grant, Florida Tech’s Flight Test Engineering Team went to Austria this summer to assess the effectiveness of a new computer-regulated system for controlling the flight of a small aircraft.

Vehicles such as jets and passenger planes have automatic systems that prevent accidents due to pilot error, but most small airplanes still rely on the pilot to pull out of situations such as losing lift. But now, a few inexpensive “fly-by-wire” systems are being outfitted for light aircraft and tested.

Florida Tech teamed up with the Technical University of Munich, which owns and operates an aircraft with an “active stick.” The aircraft, a modified Diamond DA42, is maintained and flown out of Diamond Aircraft’s headquarters in Wiener Neustadt, south of Vienna. The active stick enables haptic feedback to the pilot by means of a change in stick force, a stick vibration, or a stick push, which automatically commands the aircraft’s elevator. In addition to haptic feedback, the team examined various audio and visual alert methods intended to get the pilot’s attention if the nose starts to drop.

The grant’s principal investigator, Brian Kish, assistant professor of Mechanical Aerospace Engineering and chair of the Flight Test Engineering program, said, “We flew 11 test flights in seven days and met 100 percent of the objectives. We were fortunate with weather, the aircraft, and the systems. Rarely to flight test programs run this smoothly.”

Kish’s research partners on the grant include Markus Wilde, assistant professor of Mechanical Aerospace Engineering and the co-PI for the project. Wilde used his connections to TUM (he earned his Masters and Doctorate degree there) to set up a partnership between Florida Tech and TUM’s Institute of Flight System Dynamics. Kish also recruited flying qualities expert Dave Mitchell of Mitchell Aeronautics Research and Florida Tech’s Ralph Kimberlin, who has flown 25 first flights of newly developed aircraft and has over 8,500 flight hours in over 250 different aircraft, as the team’s chief test pilot. Finally, Florida Tech Master’s student Jennifer Geehan led test preparation, data analysis and report writing.

Kimberlin flew the first five missions to test the active stick technology in the Diamond DA42. A senior fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Kimberlin said, “The fly-by-wire DA-42 was the first and only aircraft in 54 years of flying airplanes where I had the opportunity to compare visual, aural, tactile and pusher stall warning systems at the same time, which I found to be enlightening.”

Geehan will use the data from this program for her thesis. Before arriving in Austria, she spent six weeks in Munich preparing for the program and two weeks in Wiener Neustadt for the flight campaign. She flew two missions in the DA-42 as the evaluation pilot.

First Stability and Control Course at Patuxent River Site (June 2017)


First Flight Test Course at Patuxent River Site (June 2016)