Training the next generation of test pilots


The International Test Pilots School in Ontario, Canada provides training courses for test pilots and flight test engineers working in both military and flight test.

Giorgio Clementi, president of the School, has 34 years of flying experience, 20 of which have been in flight testing. He has flown over 3000 hours on more than 60 different types of aircraft and holds a post graduate certification in aerospace engineering from Bristol University in the UK.

In this Q&A he discusses the latest developments at the School and what qualities make a good test pilot.

Giorgio Clementi, president of the School, has 34 years of flying experience, 20 of which have been in flight testing

Giorgio Clementi, president of the School, has 34 years of flying experience, 20 of which have been in flight testing

Can you describe the school?

The International Test Pilots School is one of eight accredited flight test schools in the world and one of only four that is approved by European safety regulator EASA. It’s a pretty diverse place. Our staff includes eleven nationalities. It has a fleet of 19 aircraft, including eleven jets. It is also an active flight test center with multiple projects active at any one time, testing modifications to our fleet. We have a full telemetry facility for real time monitoring of tests, our own flight test instrumentation department and a maintenance department of 16. 

We are actively supporting flight test programs in China and Thailand. The School attracts students from all over the world, currently Italy, China, Turkey and Malaysia. At any one time we are teaching around 20 students. 

Customers have different requirements and we tailor programs for different customers at any one time. Recently, we’ve developed a two-phase Experimental Test Pilot Course for COMAC in China and a combined Rotary Wing and UAS (unmanned aerial systems) one year course for the
German Armed Forces Flight Test center (WTD-61). Our customers are technology leaders and expect effective, high quality training solutions that equip their staff for testing the latest aircraft and systems within their program and their
budget constraints. 

Nonetheless the core product is the military one year graduate course. We break the offerings down further to the shorter “diploma” courses which include EASA’s Cat 2 and Cat 1 approved courses, which take 20 weeks and 31 weeks respectively. We also offer a number of “certificate” courses which range from six weeks to one week. We are now also able to offer online training for a selection of theoretical modules.

How are the courses structured?

A typical one-year course consists of a total of 12 weeks of ground school in one or two week modules that adds up to over 500 lecture hours on aspects of flight testing such as performance measurement, flying qualities and avionics testing. 

These are combined with practical in flight demonstrations and test exercises practicing flight test techniques including testing digital flight controls systems testing. Exercises are flown on both aircraft and on the simulator for a total of over 100 hours of flight testing experience.

During a course, a delegate will fly about 20 different types of aircraft to give them the full breadth of experience. The course’s format is well established – delegates have an in-flight demonstration, when the instructor is satisfied with their understanding and execution of the test technique they are tasked with an exercise and carry that out under the supervision of
an instructor.”

We have a very clear academic policy, setting high standards – it’s not an easy course and there are no guaranteed passes. We have failed a number of delegates in the recent past. 

What makes a good test pilot?

There are several key attributes required to be
a successful test pilot. They need high levels of motivation and enthusiasm. Above average flying skill and good airmanship are also a must, as is the ability to plan methodically. A breadth of operational experience goes a long way and a test pilot must also be a very
good communicator. 

What a lot of people don’t know is that there’s an unglamorous side to being a flight test pilot – for every hour of flying there is four to six hours of report-writing. Acquiring the skills to write a good flight test engineering report is therefore one of the first and key things we teach – that can be a bit of a revelation to new students.

Being a test pilot is more than just flying, it’s also about providing data so that engineering and procurement decisions can be made. It’s about finding out if the aircraft is suitable for the task it has been designed to do.

How do you manage risk?

Managing risk is integral to everything we do and as an EASA ATO we have a robust Safety Management System overseen by our safety manager, for which I am ultimately responsible as the accountable manager. Managing risk is a major part of the test planning process from the test plan down to the pre-flight briefing we have at the start of each mission. We analyze in detail how we will mitigate risks identified from situations that may arise during a particular flight and associated with the particular test. The key is to have a methodical, careful approach to test planning.

How has the school grown?

The International Test Pilots School in London, Ontario was opened in 2009

The International Test Pilots School in London, Ontario was opened in 2009

The school has been a lot busier over the past few years. Since I started the operation here in London in 2009 as the only full-time employee, we have grown to more than 45 full time staff. 

We have seen more European students since we attained EASA approval a few years ago. We’ve won significant training contracts from European civil aerospace, including Leonardo Helicopters and Airbus Helicopters. We are also seeing a lot more Asian students. The military and manufacturers are sending more pilots and engineers to us to do courses that were not available in the past. A big reason for that is that the Cat 1 and Cat 2 courses are now mandatory for industry test pilots.

How has Covid-19 effected the School?

The global pandemic has been a tremendous tragedy and a setback for ITPS as with all other organizations. We have relied on our greatest resource, our dedicated team of professionals and I am proud of the way the team has risen to the challenge. We switched to online theoretical instruction, completing Natural Icing Certification and Unmanned Air Systems Flight Tests modules and CAT-2 Performance and Flying Qualities ground schools. I am happy to report that there has been minimal impact to our programs, other than a one-month extension to the 2019B Graduate Course.

Why do people choose ITPS?

It’s sure not the winter weather! Jokes aside, Southern Ontario has a long history of military flight training dating back to before WWII. London airport was a former RCAF jet training base. There is an outstanding instructor team, responsiveness and variety of options for customized training based on approved curricula that lead to recognized qualifications. 

Our offerings tend to be innovative and very competitive. Definitely cost and availability of training slots are also considerations, particularly for industry customers. It’s not easy to get places at test pilot schools, the industry is always looking for places and we offer a top quality option.

What is the most challenging aspect of running the school?

We’re not just a school, we’re also a flight test organization and we have a very diverse fleet. Most of our aircraft are ex-military that were never certified for civil use. We are constantly modifying them with new flight test instrumentation and upgrading their cockpits, so there are always certification and engineering hurdles to overcome.

I’m very proud of our engineering team, particularly for the work they do on our Hawker Hunter upgrades and our Variable Stability Aircraft project. We are working with a partner in Germany on a Variable Stability system, some really innovative technology. It’s part of the constant development of our flight test fleet to keep up with technological development. 

FLIT students

FLIT students

What are the key technical developments at the school?

Our 5th gen Surrogate Training Aircraft (5STA) will place a fifth generation fighter cockpit in our Hawker Hunter jet, and should be going into service later this year. That will bring a whole new dimension to the avionics testing curriculum. Our Advanced Controls Evaluator (ACE), a Variable Stability L-39 with advanced flight control system, upgraded cockpit and western engine is planned to be in use by 2022. 

We’ve also just introduced a very capable Combat Aircraft Engineering Simulator. An F-18 type fighter jet simulator featuring a six channel, high definition visual system with semi dome which we use to demonstrate and rehearse flight test techniques and particularly fighter aircraft avionics and weapon system testing. We also have a Boeing 787 high fidelity flight training device that is being delivered in early May. Both are linked to our telemetry room for rehearsal of flight tests.

We’re leveraging simulation without cutting back on aircraft flight training hours. It does present the opportunity to demonstrate and practice in a more cost-effective way and maximizing the learning opportunity from each aircraft flight. The challenge for ITPS is to always provide quality training, while maintaining a competitive price. 

Do you offer UAV training?

We have a growing unmanned aerial vehicle flight test syllabus and we’re being asked to integrate UAVs into our one year course. We’re seeing demand from companies in Europe and South Korea on how to test UAVs. There is growing interest in testing and certification of autonomous air vehicles. We have updated our training to encompass UAV airworthiness and certification, electric and distributed propulsion as well as VTOL UAVs. We were delighted to have Lilium of Germany attend our UAV module in 2019. UAV testing is
a growth area, in line with the direction of the industry.

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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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