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From the Flight Deck: An Introduction to UA Flight Testing

Apr 29, 2021

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In the world of flight test, novel avionic designs don’t come along every day, which is why UA’s Flight Test department is so fortunate. We’ve seen a lot of new designs and helped turn them into innovative products to propel the world of aviation forward.

New designs can often be a challenge, but when you have a great team that loves the tests and trials associated with them, those challenges become inspiration. UA’s Flight Test team consists of myself (Paul Damschen) and Franc Mendes, with the assistance of a dedicated group of brave engineers who ride along to gather data and keep us on track with the test points to be accomplished.

We have many years of collective time and experience with numerous aircraft types, and have the advantage of weighing pros and cons we’ve seen across decades of aircraft design. We share experiences frequently, because we’ve found in flight test the best experiences cut across aircraft types and categories. This outlook protects us from limiting our mentality to “what’s been done” and allows us to look forward to what we can do. We strive to live in the realm of what is possible.

New technology designs in aviation can have a hard road to travel, given the regulatory environment.  Novel designs are often unsupported by both regulation and advisory guidance, or even a Minimum Aviation System Performance Standards (MASPS). The result can be a myriad of Issue Papers, acceptance of unreleased draft materials, and many other items the regulatory system hasn’t caught up to. Using our experience, we try to proactively address potential areas of concern. The remaining issues are worked through one at a time.

Then comes the method of flight testing a new system and associated considerations, such as what platform serves best for a given system flight test campaign. If you don’t have anything in your aircraft inventory, then changes to the test fleet are in order. In one such situation UA faced, we had completed a lengthy development and certification program and needed to dispose of an airframe and obtain one suitable to the new test project. We started the process by vetting any potential airframe that could work for the physical installation, then down-selected by virtue of other desirable qualities like supportability or overall operating costs. Other considerations we faced were:

  • What aircraft could we get online quickest
  • Schedule and cost drivers
  • What airframes we have familiarity with
  • What would serve as a solid demonstration platform

 

All these issues and questions had to be resolved before a choice could be made. Based upon system requirements, we discovered we needed a larger airframe that could accommodate the system installation and the kinds of demonstrations we anticipated.

This led to our acquisition of a Gulfstream G-III. First, we installed UA’s InSight™ Display System. This was essential to being able to drive the ClearVision™ Enhanced Flight Vision System (EFVS) as well as using a specially designed concentrated data bus to provide ClearVision with all the data it crunches down into the SkyLens™ Head-Wearable Display (HWD). This display provides all the Virtual Head-Up Display (VHUD) data and camera imagery that a pilot needs to fly from takeoff to approach and touchdown with limited time spent looking at the head-down displays in the cockpit.

Being able to fly an aircraft almost entirely “head-up” is not something the G-III’s engineers would have thought possible. Yet here we are, where older airframe technology is able to be adapted to pair with constantly progressing avionics technology, providing many new capabilities to both forward-fit and retrofit applications. We can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to put to the test next!


 

Paul DamschenPaul Damschen is a Senior Flight Test Pilot and FAA Designated Engineering Representative (DER) Systems and Equipment for UA. He has been project manager of several successful designs with key technologies supporting the FAA's NextGen Air Traffic Control Systems. Paul is an Airline Transport Pilot, Type Rated in A320 series, B737, B757, B767, C650, and B300 aircraft. In 2007, Paul was the co-recipient of the Robert J. Collier Trophy – Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) Team. Paul is also a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

 

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