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Two RPA pilots graduate top of class at test pilot school

Displayed is a United States Air Force Test Pilot School patch worn by all graduates who complete the year-long course at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Two former Hunters graduated top of their class from the course in June, with one being the first graduate to specialize as a Remotely Piloted Aircraft test pilot. (Photograph by 432d Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)

Displayed is a United States Air Force Test Pilot School patch worn by all graduates who complete the year-long course at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Two former Hunters graduated top of their class from the course in June, with one being the first graduate to specialize as a remotely piloted aircraft test pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo by 432d Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Two former Hunters graduated top of their class from the yearlong Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in June, and one was the first graduate to specialize as a remotely piloted aircraft test pilot.

The distinguished graduates, Matthew and Nicholas, are U. S. Air Force captains and former 432d Wing and 432d Air Expeditionary Wing pilots who brought in awards on both sides and forged a path for other RPA pilots to follow.

"Having two RPA pilots from the 432d Wing be the number one and number two graduates out of test pilot school greatly reflects the caliber and quality of the Airmen we develop here," said Col. Peter Gersten, 432d WG and 432d AEW commander. "We hope to send more top-notch RPA pilots to training schools like this and continue to establish RPA operators as critical and worthy components to the Air Force community."

Matthew, who graduated at the top of the class, received the Liethen-Tittle Award, which is awarded to the graduate with the best overall record for outstanding performance and academic excellence.

His counterpart, Nicholas, who graduated with the second highest scores, received the Aaron C. "C-Dot" George award, which is a peer award that is voted on by each of the students in the class. The award recognizes the student with the most operational focus and warrior attitude.

Besides graduating at the top of their class together, their careers mirrored each other.

"We are both Academy graduates," said Nicholas, recalling his time as a cadet from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. After graduating, both men went to Sheppard AFB, Texas, for undergraduate pilot training. "After training, we both were stationed at Hill AFB as F-16 Viper pilots, and then we went on to fly RPAs at Creech before going to test pilot school together."

As the first dedicated RPA curriculum student, Nicholas did it all and welcomed the challenge, with his most memorable moment flying in a U-2 Dragon Lady at 69,000 feet.

Matthew, who followed the traditional pilot track, recalled his time flying the JAS-39 Gripen, the current Swedish fighter, while in Sweden and enjoyed the opportunity to fly several helicopters.

"The RPA track was the best curriculum at TPS because it provided test conductor time in the control room in addition to all of the experimental test pilot objectives," Nicholas said. "It was a privilege to represent RPAs with Matthew. I look forward to shaping the RPA integration into the battlefield amongst manned aviators and ground warriors."

Matthew agreed that representing the RPA community was a great honor and looks forward to helping expand advantages in that area.

"I hope we can help in the development of RPA systems that provide an even greater battlefield advantage than those currently fielded," Matthew said. "It seems like leadership in the test community is working on solutions to teaching and conducting RPA tests."

The two pilots will remain dedicated to RPA testing and fall back on their experiences from the 432d Wing.

Each degree recipient completed more than 2,500 hours of academics and approximately 120 hours of in-flight training. Students put in about six hours per day of instructor contact time, not including academic and flight preparation.

During the final six months of the year at TPS, students demonstrated knowledge of curriculum objectives through the planning and execution of test management projects, or TMP.

Each TMP team consisted of six students who carried out an actual test project for a customer. The projects were BEAR CLAW, Have RPA, Have Raven and Have Mable.

Nicholas was the project lead for the Have RPA project, which evaluated a remotely piloted Learjet for the test pilot school's curriculum development. Have RPA successfully tested a ground-up datalink, characterizing the aircraft response to ground station inputs beyond 70 miles distance.

Matthew was the project lead for the Have Mable project, which investigated electronic countermeasures on the C-12J for the 586 FLTS at Holloman AFB, N.M. For ECM testing, the C-12J offered an increased loiter and reduced flight-hour cost over the currently used T-38. Have Mable conducted the first flight of an ECM pod on the C-12J.

*Parts of this story were from the Edwards AFB article, "AF Test Pilot School graduates Class 10B June 11" by Kenji Thuloweit