The US Flight Test Safety Committee is spreading the word on risk reduction

Just weeks after attending the Flight Test Safety Committee's (FTSC) most recent workshop, an Australian test pilot narrowly escaped a potentially deadly pilot-induced oscillation (PIO) by recalling a "lesson learned" from the FTSC event that "flashed through his mind".

"That's what it's all about. We are trying to help people save time, money, effort and maybe even keep them from busting their tail too," says FTSC chairman Mark Hussey. Formed in November 1994 by members of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP), the Society of Test Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the committee's charter is to promote flight safety, reduce the risk of a mishap and promote risk management.

Teleconferencing boost

Effective communication is the lifeblood of the FTSC and, until the word really began to get out among the test pilot community and the industry as a whole, the venture had limited success, says Hussey. "If you don't show up at the meeting, we don't know what your concerns are. However, since around mid-2000, and with the backing of General Electric and others, we got teleconferencing going and we found a database. Electronic media - emails and teleconferencing - have been very fruitful. The safety workshops have blossomed into very useful events and they're now on the calendar, even at the corporate level in some companies."

As well as its annual workshop, the group holds a monthly teleconference involving test pilots from major aerospace companies, US and international government agencies and the military.

More and more, according to Hussey, "we are getting people who are in the smaller start-up companies such as Cirrus, Safire and Adam Aircraft. They are asking a lot of questions about flight testing and 'does anyone have any experiences in this or that?' and they will often get 14 or 15 responses."

One company, for example, asked about a US Federal Aviation Administration requirement to put a spin parachute on aircraft, only to be told that no such rule existed. "But we got lots of responses from people saying that it was a good idea and that if they were going to put one on, to do it this or that way," says Hussey. Recognising the growing importance of the emerging generation of entry-level and very light jets - and the vital role the FTSC can play towards keeping their testing safe - the committee is making extra efforts to encourage participation. "They don't have the grey beards, but they have just as much to lose as anyone else," says Hussey, who adds that the test pilots for smaller operations sometimes face greater pressure to cut corners. "Some of these give safety good lip-service but, when it comes down to it, you need someone there who can say: 'Does that make sense?' The FTSC can't actually be there, but we can share the experiences of others who have been there. They can say things like 'If I was forced by a vice-president to do that I'd stand up and say this'," says Hussey.

Despite the seemingly obvious benefits of this interchange between test pilots and test programmes, the FTSC is still handicapped by the reluctance of some companies and organisations to "open up". "The hardest part we're having is getting the proprietary release through their legal offices. It is getting to the point where the user community is so fervently clamouring for this sort of information that fairly, or unfairly, this is going to get out. You can either sponsor it, or not. After all, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who 'a large American airframe manufacturer' might be, does it?"

For its next challenge, the FTSC is studying an expansion into education and the creation of a certificate of recognition, or its equivalent, for flight-test safety professionals. "Would it hold any value? We don't know but it is certainly a niche that needs to be filled," Hussey adds.




Source: Flight International