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Test Pilot School Admission

PilotEngineer

New Member
I'm a senior at Cornell University studying Mechanical Engineering (concentration aeronautical). I'll be graduating with a 3.1 GPA but I feel that won't be competitive enough for Test Pilot School. Given that I get selected for SNA and do well in the fleet, would a master's in aerospace engineering (with a 3.5+ GPA) increase my chances? Or does fleet performance matter more? Does the test pilot school even consider a master's degree? I want to make myself the most competitive as possible.
 

RedFive

Well-Known Member
pilot
None
Contributor
My buddy and I were both in the same fleet squadron, both studied Aerospace Engineering, and had both worked at gov't funded space organizations prior to joining. Both of us had great FITREPS and, more or less identical recommendation letters. We had done the same deployments. He had a Masters, I did not. What I wish I had known in your shoes is that there are many more fixed-wing slots than rotary. In fact, there are usually only two helo slots (Sierra and Romeo) and unless they completely run out of candidates for the other platform, they're not going to consider you for a platform you've not really flown. As such, we were competing for one slot, and Masters beats no Masters. That said, they have accepted History majors in the past. YMMV!

I think your GPA will be fine, Engineering is tough. But if you're really trying to maximize your chances, knock out the Masters, get through OCS, kick ass in flight school, and go fixed-wing. Just try not to kill yourself over it (literally or figuratively), because there are more important things to life. Enjoy the ride.
 

IKE

Nerd Whirler
pilot
While an MS is great, it won't help you learn to fly or be a junior officer. If you want a Master's, get one, but don't do it just to apply to TPS. If you haven't done any military flying yet, you don't even know if you have some weird medical, anthro, psych, or other barrier, and nobody knows yet how you'll perform as an officer in the fleet.

Also, age. You really won't know if Naval Aviation is for you for a few years, so get into the fleet and get going.
 

PilotEngineer

New Member
If I pursue a MS while serving, do I still get active duty pay or go reserve? How does that work? Also, how many years of active duty time do I have to obtain before I can pursue a MS? Also thanks for all the great advice.
 

JTS11

Well-Known Member
pilot
Contributor
Here is the blurb from the most recent TPS board on the Marine side:

4.a.5. Successful completion of college physics or mechanics and college level mathematics through calculus. Although not a requirement, a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, physical science or mathematics fields is highly desirable.

Concur with everything @IKE said.
 

Pags

Pope of Chili Town
pilot
TPS selection will also vary based on your platform and what the test community needs. If you're a helo guy and 60 isn't testing a lot then it's going to be a lot more competitive. But if something big is going on in your community there's a better chance at selection.
 

Mos

Well-Known Member
None
If I pursue a MS while serving, do I still get active duty pay or go reserve? How does that work? Also, how many years of active duty time do I have to obtain before I can pursue a MS? Also thanks for all the great advice.
Don't take this as gospel, since answers to these questions depend on various factors and I didn't do TPS. First, there's not technically anything stopping you from doing distance learning on your own dime while active duty. And it may be possible to get tuition assistance. The question is when you'll have the time and whether you can manage the time you have successfully. I had about 75% of an online masters done before leaving for OCS and here's how I perceived my ability to complete it throughout my early career:
  • OCS (3 months), impossible
  • Pensacola (1 year), possible but couldn't predict when I would class up for IFS, API and Primary. Doing grad school and flight school simultaneously would've been pretty tough. Plus there's a large school of thought here that says your off time there is best spent enjoying it.
  • SERE/P3 RAG (10 months), possible but again hard to predict the schedule.
  • Early half of sea tour (2 years), possible but very busy getting qualified, becoming instructor, etc.
  • Last months of sea tour, knocked out two courses.
  • One year into shore tour, finished masters.
I guess if I was a prodigy or extremely disciplined, perhaps I could've handled both duty and education. But I knew myself and knew that I'd be stressed out and probably failing one or both if I did that. I think the conventional wisdom is that shore tour is usually the time to do a masters.
Personally, I think if you want to do the MS first and it doesn't risk pushing you over the age limit, go for it. Engineering is a great field that's in demand, but I don't recommend doing it just to get into TPS, that's a lot of work for something that could get steered by other things out of your control.
There are government paid education opportunities via your Navy service (NPS, NWC, ROTC, etc) after first sea tour, but there may be career implications. There have been other discussions about education in this board, keep researching.
 

IKE

Nerd Whirler
pilot
Not to sound elitist, because I got my MS from NPS (not exactly the paragon of rigor), but a distance MS in Engineering sounds neither rewarding nor marketable.
 

Pags

Pope of Chili Town
pilot
Not to sound elitist, because I got my MS from NPS (not exactly the paragon of rigor), but a distance MS in Engineering sounds neither rewarding nor marketable.
If it's from a legit school, what's the difference in marketability? That said, doing a distance master during your first sea tour sounds like a terrible idea. A masters is a tie breaker for TPS, good paper from your first command is more important and if getting a master risks that paper then what's the point?
 

sevenhelmet

Far from this opera for evermore...
pilot
FWIW, I got into TPS with a 3.0 undergrad engineering degree and no masters. It is possible. Of the guys in my class, about 50% had a masters from what I can recall. Regarding degree selection, I think your major is fine, although higher GPAs are obviously better. The board looks at what classes you took, and they really want to make sure you have the academic background to progress through the syllabus.

The #1 prereq is getting into flight school. Focus on that first. Then focus on quals, flight time, and solid performance in flight school and the fleet. All that matters more than anything you can do to change your GPA as a college senior. There's time after your first fleet tour to get an MS if you want.
 
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IKE

Nerd Whirler
pilot
If it's from a legit school, what's the difference in marketability?
Admittedly, I'm neither in industry nor looking to be at the moment, but I don't know anyone with a truly technical MS earned remotely. Systems Engineering/Engineering Mgmt is one thing; Mech, Aero, EE, etc. are another. Even NPS doesn't offer every MS remotely (see Operations Research).

My resident MS in SE is no different than other TPS grads' remote MS on paper, and I think that's appropriate given how heavy the coursework was on PM, cost, etc. and what the Navy expects me to do with the degree. If I wanted to actually do engineering work (not engineering mgmt or programmatics), I'd want a resident program (with lab work, etc.)
 

Pags

Pope of Chili Town
pilot
Admittedly, I'm neither in industry nor looking to be at the moment, but I don't know anyone with a truly technical MS earned remotely. Systems Engineering/Engineering Mgmt is one thing; Mech, Aero, EE, etc. are another. Even NPS doesn't offer every MS remotely (see Operations Research).

My resident MS in SE is no different than other TPS grads' remote MS on paper, and I think that's appropriate given how heavy the coursework was on PM, cost, etc. and what the Navy expects me to do with the degree. If I wanted to actually do engineering work (not engineering mgmt or programmatics), I'd want a resident program (with lab work, etc.)
Fair for the lab work although I just looked up my alma mater and they offer multiple distance learning MSs in AE, ME, EE, etc. All of these programs are ranked in the national top ten. So I guess it can be done and there's a way to do the lab work remotely. A coworker of mine was getting his PhD in Aero via distance but his thesis was in CFD so he could do all of that work remotely. Occasionally he'd have to to Chicago to sit down with his advisor.
 

taxi1

Well-Known Member
pilot
Times are evolving. I know of remote learning PhD programs too. Colorado State University has one in Systems Engineering that is going well. Good fits are people with day jobs that they can use to pose a thesis-worthy problem against.

OP, if you’ve not seen these before, you can get a sense of the math needed to understand the curriculum. Interesting to read for their own sake.


Also great is Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators. Free online copy...

 
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