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NFOs & Test Pilot School

TFirish3

New Member
I was wondering if some of the NFOs could speak about their experiences at Test Pilot School. It seems like its potentially a pretty good gig, but there doesn't seem to be too much info out there about it. Specifically, I had the following questions, but any general perspective or experience would be awesome.

1. How competitive is acceptance for someone who has an engineering degree (BS)? Do you need to be #1 or #2 coming out of your first tour?

2. What type of aircraft can you expect to fly, and in what capacity? Their website shows everything from gliders to Rhinos, but I can't figure you'd spend too much time in a glider (for example).

3. Are NFOs pigeon-holed into their native communities? Ie: would an E-2 NFO spend most of his time working with the E-2D or a maritime guy with the P-8 (bringing newer planes online/testing)? Would appreciate for both the school and the VX squadrons.

4. Any experience/insight with the co-op program & getting a masters in engineering?

5. What's the general career impact? It seems like a fair number of guys go in with the attitude to transfer to AEDO, etc, but is it normal to head back to fleet squadrons afterwards? Any impact on DH/command?

Thanks all, appreciate the help in advance.
 

IKE

Nerd Whirler
pilot
I'll answer the only one I can with more than a single anecdotal data point:

4. The NPS/TPS CO-Op was scrapped. Unless and until they reinstitute it, the last class of Co-Oppers will start with TPS class 147 next July. The only option now (that I know of) is to finish TPS then do a Distance Learning (DL) MechE Master's during your test tour. There is a P-3 NFO TPS grad (post test and disassociated tours) in the SE program now, and he was not granted any credits for TPS, so he has to do a full 2-yr program.
 

Flash

SEVAL/ECMO
None
Super Moderator
Contributor
I know several NFOs who have been selected and will fill in as well best as I can from what I know:

1. How competitive is acceptance for someone who has an engineering degree (BS)? Do you need to be #1 or #2 coming out of your first tour?
Not everyone I know who was selected was a #1 or #2 but they were all EPs. One key thing about TPS though is timing, there were two NFOs competing in my first squadron for one TPS slot and the more qualified guy didn't get it because that year the one EP-3 NFO TPS slot had the PG school option and the more qualified guy already had a grad degree on the Navy's dime. A lot of it depends on when you depart you squadron, some selection boards you may have little competition but other times you may have a lot since you are competing for 'community' spots.

All the guys I knew that did TPS had BS's and same was true for their peers. I think they may accept a few non-BS folks but having one I don't think it helps since most who apply have one.

2. What type of aircraft can you expect to fly, and in what capacity? Their website shows everything from gliders to Rhinos, but I can't figure you'd spend too much time in a glider (for example).
The guys I knew got experience on many different platforms going through the program, that is part of TPS. As an NFO the guys I knew flew a few less than the pilots but they still got experience in a wide variety of aircraft.

3. Are NFOs pigeon-holed into their native communities? Ie: would an E-2 NFO spend most of his time working with the E-2D or a maritime guy with the P-8 (bringing newer planes online/testing)? Would appreciate for both the school and the VX squadrons.
All the guys I know primarily did testing for their communities, a few did some outside but it was for specific projects and didn't last long.

5. What's the general career impact? It seems like a fair number of guys go in with the attitude to transfer to AEDO, etc, but is it normal to head back to fleet squadrons afterwards? Any impact on DH/command?
I know several that returned to the fleet and most did well and it wasn't held against them career-wise, I can't say if that is the case fleet-wide.
 

Renegade One

Well-Known Member
None
Is this really an Astronaut-track question? No harm/no foul if it is. Just curious…TPS having always been an E-Ticket.

My thoughts (subject to comment by those who've been there…I haven't...):
1. TPS = good (great?) tour
2. Engineering degree is a better application/going-in credential than Forestry.
3. Previous tour rankings are important, I'm sure. I think "Flash" described reality pretty well.
4. After the "groovy shit" of doing whatever you do as a TPS stud in wildly diverse aircraft (maybe a P-3 NFO would be asked to fly an assessment of the ASW capability on a Lockheed P2V Neptune…? I dunno….spitballing here.) I've been told that Navy TACAIR pilots have been assigned to do a "flying qualities assessment" of everything from Bearcats to C-47s to B-52s. Pretty cool. Can't buy that experience anywhere...
5. After TPS graduation, pretty sure most folks probably get assigned and work best and most efficiently (e.g., "highest ROI") within their primary communities. Payback isn't exactly a bitch in this deal… ;)
 

TFirish3

New Member
@Renegade One, no personal interest in the Astronaut track. Just came across the idea of TPS and thought it would be a pretty cool experience to be able to hop in a variety of aircraft, especially if its viewed as "on career path." I suppose my questions could be broken down to how do I get there, what's it like and what's the impact?
 

sevenhelmet

Uh oh...
pilot
Also, to answer the OP's questions since I didn't have time the other night:

1.) It is always competitive; however, it varies from board to board. Like anything else, timing is key, plus which community you hail from. Sometimes they just aren't looking for whatever your flavor happens to be that board, which is why they encourage people to apply early and often. #1 or #2 EP is not a requirement, but it stong fitreps don't hurt. Weak fitreps will probably keep you from going to TPS.

2.) Students normally fly around 25-30 types of aircraft during TPS. What types vary, and most of those are only for 1-2 evaluation flights. The majority of the fixed wing syllabus is in T-6s and T-38s. Helo guys get to fly the MH-60 and TH-57, and since USNTPS is also the Army's test pilot school, there are a fair number of helo guys in each class.

3.) Not necessarily. I have seen NFOs go to other communities, but it is rare. Expect to work with "your" fleet airframe during your test tour.

4.) I have no insight, but it's supposed to be a good deal if it's available and you don't already have a masters' degree.

5.) TPS is good for your career options, opening the door to a lot of opportunities both within and outside the Navy. Look at it from the aspect of a potential employer: "Test Pilot" looks good on nearly any job application you are likely to be filling out. As to DH/CO, it's all about timing my friend. In that respect, all a guy can do is his level best, and let the chips fall where they may. In that regard, having the other career path options that being from TPS can bring will only help you put food on the table and have a job which hopefully doesn't make you want to drill out your eyeballs with a screwdriver.

Not having actually gone to TPS yet, I base the above answers on having talked to a LOT of folks who have. I asked a lot of the same questions, albeit from a single-anchor flyer's perspective.
 

Renegade One

Well-Known Member
None
4.) I have no insight, but it's supposed to be a good deal if it's available and you don't already have a masters' degree.

5.) TPS is good for your career options, opening the door to a lot of opportunities both within and outside the Navy. Look at it from the aspect of a potential employer: "Test Pilot" looks good on nearly any job application you are likely to be filling out. As to DH/CO, it's all about timing my friend. In that respect, all a guy can do is his level best, and let the chips fall where they may. In that regard, having the other career path options that being from TPS can bring will only help you put food on the table and have a job which hopefully doesn't make you want to drill out your eyeballs with a screwdriver.
The way I heard the response at this year's Aviation Flag Officer Panel at Tailhook on Saturday afternoon….and I seem to recall that this applies to both TPS and NPS…these CAN both be "career enhancing"…but only of you already have the competitive breakout….and the timing avail…to suck up a year or two of "NOB" FITREPS. Think about it…your peers are off doing "production jobs" (FRS, VT, others) and getting ranked in large competitive groups. YOU are in a NOB/STUINS situation.

These do NOT appear to be "get well" programs/tours…more like the opposite. Only the "already front runner" types, whose timing allows for the "dead time", can expect to screen DH. If the latter isn't your desired goal, well, then…

That's what I heard…anyone else get a different takeaway?
 

bert

Enjoying the real world
pilot
Contributor
...

These do NOT appear to be "get well" programs/tours…more like the opposite. Only the "already front runner" types, whose timing allows for the "dead time", can expect to screen DH. If the latter isn't your desired goal, well, then…

That's what I heard…anyone else get a different takeaway?
R1 is correct.

Also, do NOT buy into the myth of a "get well" tour. As a smarter guy than me once said, NPC doesn't have hospitals, it has leper colonies...
 

STLEngineer

Registered User
pilot
My $0.02...

1) Selectees are generally the "most qualified." That means EPs matter, but so does your backround (undergrad/other exp.). An EP is a big deal, but it's up to the board.

2) Aircraft. The NFOs are in a separate curriculum from the fixed and rotary wing pilot types. It's ry one school with three different curriculums. The NFOs follow a systems based curriculum, so you'll get to fly in some different aircraft, but it's from the perspective of a systems evaluator.

3) You're selected to fill a future gap in a test squadron for a specific platform (your fleet one, generally). Some personnel may be selected for another platform (UAVs/Similar platform), but that is out of your control and dependent on the needs of the Navy.

4) I'm not really in the know here, but I have heard similar things to those above.

5) Career impact can be an issue. Non-observed fitreps and career timing shifts due to TPS can hur, but I know of many AEDOs and many DHs, Skippers, and Commodores that are TPS grads.
 

JEFE

Active Member
None
Been a while since this post, but I figured I'd chime in as an NFO TPS grad:

1. I think most were EPs, but not all #1s and #2s, Academics matters as well, all the students in my class but one were engineers or physicists for undergrad.

2. Most of the NFOs in my class flew between 90 and 100 hours over the year. Short flights, mostly focused on evaluating radar, cameras, and weapons systems, but also some time working on evaluating aircraft performance and stability and control. Most of the flights are in the back seat, but I did get some stick time in a few of the aircraft such as the Beaver, Albatross, Gliders, Extra-300, and helo fam flights. For the pilot proficiency flights, you can usually fly from the back seat, but the school SOP does not allow NFOs to be at the controls during critical phases of flight. Partial list is the above plus a lot of T-6 and T-38 time, a fair amount of hornet time, a few other random planes here and there, and a bit of UAV exposure.

3. In the school, all the NFOs study the same syllabus, which covers a little bit of everything systems wise. The goal is really to teach a thought process to apply to evaluating any system rather than teaching methods for everything out there. Afterwards, most do go to the test squadron for their community. There are other things out there as mentioned, UAVs, JMPS, weapons, but that is chosen for you.

4. Co-op wasn't available for my class, but NPS does offer some credit after TPS towards a few of their distance MS programs, and the VX squadrons are willing to back us up on getting them.

5. Not sure on this one yet myself, but the comments above seem to be what I've heard so far, the NOBs can hurt, but it can be valued sometimes too.

Overall it was a lot of work, you write a lot of papers. The flying was great, and I think I might have learned as much there as I did in all of undergrad. Let me know if you have any other questions.
 

Uncle Fester

Robot Pimp
None
Super Moderator
Contributor
Sorry for detouring the thread a bit, but the fact that you have to mitigate the effect of TPS on your career has got to be one of the great examples of how screwed up our fit rep-promotion system has become. The reason NOB paper is bad is that the Tank then doesn't know what/how you did during that time period, right? You were literally "not observed". But it's TPS, for fucks sake. It's a known curriculum with known standards and if you graduate, obviously you met them. "LT X went to this 'TPS' thing, whatever that is...what did he do? No idea. LT Y, on the other hand, successfully turned over 100 NATOPS commas into semi-colons at the rag, just like me. Obviously he's a hot running team player."

I gather that it varies a lot by community, and maybe it's a different story among the Hornet guys. At least among VAW, it appeared frowned upon. Between guys I knew in the fleet and what I saw working in Pax, you could definitely have a successful career in flight test (successful in the conventional Navy definition of you wind up CO of something) or if you're trying to get on the astronaut track. If your real goal is to be CAG or carrier skipper, TPS most definitely is taking yourself off the golden path. I think that's fucked up, but it's how it is and nobody asked me anyway.

If you want to taste flight test with a better chance of returning to the Fleet, you could look into the non-TPS VXs like VX-1 or VX-30. I've known guys at both places and they enjoyed it.
 

illinijoe05

Nachos
pilot
Sorry for detouring the thread a bit, but the fact that you have to mitigate the effect of TPS on your career has got to be one of the great examples of how screwed up our fit rep-promotion system has become. The reason NOB paper is bad is that the Tank then doesn't know what/how you did during that time period, right? You were literally "not observed". But it's TPS, for fucks sake. It's a known curriculum with known standards and if you graduate, obviously you met them. "LT X went to this 'TPS' thing, whatever that is...what did he do? No idea. LT Y, on the other hand, successfully turned over 100 NATOPS commas into semi-colons at the rag, just like me. Obviously he's a hot running team player."

I gather that it varies a lot by community, and maybe it's a different story among the Hornet guys. At least among VAW, it appeared frowned upon. Between guys I knew in the fleet and what I saw working in Pax, you could definitely have a successful career in flight test (successful in the conventional Navy definition of you wind up CO of something) or if you're trying to get on the astronaut track. If your real goal is to be CAG or carrier skipper, TPS most definitely is taking yourself off the golden path. I think that's fucked up, but it's how it is and nobody asked me anyway.

If you want to taste flight test with a better chance of returning to the Fleet, you could look into the non-TPS VXs like VX-1 or VX-30. I've known guys at both places and they enjoyed it.
This is bad gouge. The board recognized TPS last year with something like 95% of all tps grads who had a first tour EP making O-4. That was higher than FRS and Weps School guys. Also the OT test squadrons VX-1, VX-9 and OT guys at the DT squadrons did not fair well at all at the boards. Also TPS opens up a lot of doors for you that you would otherwise not have access to while still allowing you continue on the "golden path",
 

Uncle Fester

Robot Pimp
None
Super Moderator
Contributor
How are they faring for community screens (DH, squadron CO)? That's where I saw lots of guys getting shoved aside, at least in my community. Considering they had to do well in the Fleet to get picked up for TPS in the first place, it was disconcerting how many didn't even get picked up for OP DH. And ones who did still didn't screen for CO. Word that came back down from those screens was "too much NOB paper."

It definitely opens up other paths, and you can make a very healthy career out of those paths. All I said was if you want a conventional sea command career track, it seems to, at best, make it more difficult.
 
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