The world’s oldest training establishment for test pilots is aiming to keep pace with modern airpower trends. The Empire Test Pilots’ School at Boscombe Down in the U.K. is moving into its eighth decade and has established the Unmanned Air Systems Capability Development Centre.
The center, the first in the U.K., aims to keep the nation in the vanguard of UAS developments by facilitating the melding of defense and industry expertise in the sector. Inaugurated in April 2012, the facility has been “bedding in” over the past year, and will support the rapid development of unmanned air systems programs from concept to deployment.
“In 2013 we will be pushing it a lot more and taking on a lot more work,” said Qinetiq spokesman John Hay-Campbell. The test pilot’s school is run jointly by the U.K. Ministry of Defence and defense contractor Qinetiq.
Objectives will include communicating best practices to support the maximum re-use of data and lessons learnt; coordinating provision of facilities such as access to air ranges and airspace; and accelerating technology insertion through the maximum re-use of expertise and simulation capabilities.
The MoD hopes the center will make UAS procurement more efficient. The UASCDC was created to support development by providing a “corporate memory” to help organizations identify existing expertise, knowledge and facilities, potentially easing initial program planning and accelerating project outcomes.
The center will not operate the systems itself but instead provide a repository of best practices and resources for organizations involved in their development. It aims to pool expertise in areas such as air vehicle engineering, release-to-service, and the integration of command and control and communications systems with UAS developers’ own skills.
People working on UAS projects often operate in isolation and lack the broader vision or knowledge of certain aspects of development, Hay-Campbell said.
Meanwhile, the existing work of the school continues, with its services in demand not only by the U.K. military authorities but several other nations.
The British armed forces remain the largest users, with the largest international “customer” being Australia. Personnel from France, Singapore and the U.S. also train at the site.
The school’s fleet ranges from an Agusta A109 Power helicopter to a recently acquired Avro RJ100 regional airliner. It also includes several military types that have never featured in the U.K. armed forces’ order of battle, such as the Franco-German Alpha Jet advanced trainer and the Saab Gripen fourth-generation fighter.
A Qinetiq-owned six-axis, full-motion simulator is used to complement the flying training. Unusually, it can be used to simulate either fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft, with different cockpits that can be swapped out as required.