Text & Pictures: Chris Tonthat (an i2i Production) ęsbap 2021
 
U.S.N.T.P.S. current paint scheme (Courtesy USNTPS via Web / DR)
 

United States Naval Test Pilot School
The United States Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS), located at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Patuxent River, Maryland, provides instruction to experienced United States Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and foreign military experimental test pilots, flight test engineers, and flight test flight officers in the processes and techniques of aircraft and systems testing and evaluation.

History:
The school was established in 1945, when the Navy's Flight Test Group transferred from Naval Air Station Anacostia, Washington, DC to Naval Air Station Patuxent River and Test Pilot Training Division or TPT was established.

USNTPS is the primary test pilot school for U.S. Army aviators, as it is the only U.S. military test pilot school to offer instruction on rotary-wing aircraft. They also operate an exchange program with the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School located at Edwards Air Force Base. Class 1 graduated December 21, 1948. In 1957 the school's name was officially changed to the United States Naval Test Pilot School.

Milestones:
Rotary Wing Syllabus introduced in 1961
11 month syllabus established in 1973
Airborne Systems Syllabus introduced in 1975
Short Course Department organised in 1997

Training:
The selection process is highly competitive, and applicants are chosen by a selection board. The curriculum accommodates three main specialities with two classes annually (11 months in duration):
- fixed wing (pilot/engineer)
- rotary wing (pilot/engineer)
- airborne systems (Naval flight officer/engineer)

Training program includes:
Pre-arrival flight training in T-6 (NAS Pensacola), T-38C (Randolph AFB), H-72, and
H-60 (Western Army Aviation Training Site (WAATS), Marana, AZ)
- 530 academic hours
- 100 sorties/120 flight hours
- about 25 technical reports

Instructional flow is traditional theory to practice: classroom, lab and simulation, exercise briefing and flight demonstration, later data flights with technical reports preparation, review/debrief/critique.

 
BuNo 614856 (#15) unveiled
 
July 10th was a very hot and humid day in Houston, TX, after days of rainy weather. I was at KEFD for a meeting just a stone throw away from the NASA hangar where the T-38N fleet is kept and maintained. While conducting my business in the ramp area, I took a quick glance at the NASA hangar and I noticed an aircraft that did not belong there. A second look confirmed that it was a T-38 but still, it didn't look like a typical NASA T-38N mostly with a white livery. This T-38 had a bright blue tail that was sticking out like a sore thumb! I quickly grabbed my camera with a 400mm lens to have a better look. Sure enough, a quick shot confirmed it was a US Navy T-38 with a special livery that I did not recognize. I tried to get as close as possible but I knew not to cross the red line marked on the ground. Navigating along the red line I was able to snatch a second shot with a little more information...US NA...TEST PI...What??? Ahh....US NAVAL TEST PILOT SCHOOL! Again, I don't recognize this livery. What is this all about? Not being able to find a better angle through lots of obstructions in between, I gave up and went back to business and forgot about what I saw.

After taking care of business, I was just getting ready to head home when I ran into a few fellow spotters nearby and after a quick chat, I found out that the T-38 I saw has been doing some ground testing the prior days in the rain and on this day, it was scheduled for the first test flight! Apparently this USNTPS T-38C has been at KEFD for a while for a scheduled maintenance visit that included a new "Show Bird" livery. So the big question was...will it fly later in the afternoon or will the rain roll back in to scrub the test flight? Without being able to confirm, I had a decision to make...head home to chill out or brave the heat and humidity to catch the test flight of this bird. I chose the latter.

The afternoon was still young and the sun was getting hotter by the minute. By mid-afternoon, one source told us that the test flight would take place at 17:00. Wow, almost three more hours to soak in the heat and humidity!! All of a sudden, not half an hour later, we saw the Talon being towed from the maintenance hangar to the shed with the canopy up. Then, our source told us that they had moved the test flight up to 16:00 to beat potential thunderstorms forecasted for the area. But not until we saw the pilot walking toward the airplane that we knew for sure the test flight was going to happen. Finally! So, we scrambled to get to the best position possible to catch the aircraft taxiing by and ultimately taking off.

They kept the schedule pretty tight as the engines were cranked up at 16:00. At approximately 16:10, the Talon was taxiing in front of us and the pilot gave us the thumbs-up sign. By 16:18 VVTP15 was rotating and took off from Runway 17R with the sun shining on the fresh and glossy livery. Knowing the 50-minute test flight would end quickly, I geared up to move to another spot on the north end of the airport to catch the landing. Not long after arriving at the north end, the Talon was already on its way back for a safe and uneventful landing struck by the afternoon sun peeking through the clouds.

That was a nice catch for the day! A few days later "Show Bird" left KEFD and headed back home to NAS Patuxent River.

 
Noticing something different in the NASA hangar
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
"Show Bird" being towed out of the hangar getting ready for the test flight
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
Awaiting the pilot
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
Another view of BuNo 614856
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
Proudly showing off the USNTPS emblem theme
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
Off the ground at 16:18 CDTOff the ground at 16:18 CDT
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
Gracefully tucking the landing gear
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
Climbing away from KEFD for the test flight over the Gulf of Mexico
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
First approach to KEFD after the 50-minute test flight
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
Giving a few photographers on the ground a good look along the landing approach
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
A view of the underside
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
Final approach on 17R
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
About to complete an uneventful test flight
(Chris Tonthatę * an i2i Production)
 

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