Mojave, California, has long the place, which is to say the place, where civilians go to learn the fine points of flight test aviation, and more so now than ever. A new civilian test pilot school hung out its shingle next door to the National Test Pilot School on Dec. 10, offering similar programs at the same airport, and access to a similar fleet of aircraft. In many cases, the very same aircraft. And there are many familiar faces at the new school as well.
International Flight Test Institute was launched by the same management team led by CEO Bill Korner that purchased Flight Research, Inc. in 2013 from flight test education pioneers Sean and Nadia Roberts, founders of the National Test Pilot School. Flight Research, also founded by the Robertses, has provided and maintained aircraft used by NTPS since 1980, and continues to offer upset recovery and other advanced training geared toward general aviation pilots and corporate flight departments.
Recent customers who have posted rave reviews of Flight Research include Steve Hinton, a six-time National Championship Air Races winner; Flight Research has also been featured this year in publications including Aviation Week.
The Robertses, both highly respected aviators with storied careers (Sean Roberts is the 1996 recipient of the James H. Doolittle Award from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots), now serve as advisors and instructors at IFTI. They are no longer involved with running the Flight Research or IFTI, however, according to a company spokesman. Each of the Robertses served 10.5 months in federal prison, according to federal records, following a 2012 conviction for tax evasion. The couple paid $3.2 million to the IRS in restitution and back taxes.
Meanwhile, the market for test pilots and unusual attitude recovery has grown in recent years, driven by renewed demand for aircraft and insurance incentives for advanced pilot training. David Dickerson, who serves as communications director for IFTI, said the new school (in the same building and run by the same executives who now operate Flight Research), will compete for students with NTPS, offering a “different management philosophy, different instructors … and different aircraft” (though in many cases the same aircraft, or at least the same models). The programs will be similar, though IFTI offers fewer details online and has no published pricing (NTPS offers a variety of programs with prices posted online, ranging from a few hundred dollars for one-day classroom sessions, two-week flight programs costing $10,000, up to a $925,000, 51-week program for preparing professional test pilots).
Dickerson said IFTI programs are customized, and “we’ll be taking everyone on an individual basis.”
The IFTI website lists a similar range of courses (including a 51-week professional course, and a two-week short course), and an aircraft lineup that runs the gamut from single-engine pistons to high-performance jets; it also includes helicopters. (IFTI operates both kinds of Skyhawk: the four-seat Cessna and the U.S. Navy attack aircraft that goes by the same moniker.)
The Aermacchi MB-326 flown by AOPA Senior Editor Al Marsh for a story about the National Test Pilot School published in 2000 remains a workhorse, used for upset recovery training and test pilot programs in all three schools, one of dozens of aircraft operated by the programs that make Mojave a veritable “Disneyland for pilots,” Dickerson said.