Air Force’s Test Pilot School celebrates semi-sesquicentennial anniversary

  • Published
  • By Giancarlo Casem
  • 412th Test Wing Public Affairs

The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School celebrated its 75th anniversary with multiple events that culminated in a dinner event attended by current students and alumni at Edwards Air Force Base, Sept. 21.

The two-day birthday celebration allowed alumni to reconnect with classmates and also for current students to connect with previous students and learn about the unique challenges that each prior class faced. A panel discussion at the base theater, Sept. 20, allowed current students to ask questions to alumni about their experiences. A golf tournament was held Sept. 21 to commemorate the anniversary and further allowed alumni to connect with each other.

“You know this place is special. I didn’t learn to fly here, but to fly better; more accurately and I enjoyed this learning process mightily,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Collins, Apollo 11 command module pilot. “I never particularly liked school, but I can honestly say TPS was the first one that I ever enjoyed.”

Collins was the keynote speaker at the dinner event. He talked about his experiences at the school, which he graduated from in 1960, and how the specialized training he received led to him being selected by NASA to be part of the space program.

“We students worked hard, not so much the flying, but the academics. The performance part I thought was fairly easy, but the latter half; stability and control got pretty complex,” Collins said. “The part of TPS I didn’t like was called data reduction; our planes were specially equipped with tape recorders that revealed any tiny mistake we made in flight. The mistakes were buried in reams and reams of crude paper tape, which we had to study minutely, in order to discover the tiny little mistakes that we might have made.”

Collins also said that at times, he felt overwhelmed by the historical significance of TPS.

“I felt like I was treading on hallowed ground and I kept asking myself, ‘how did I get here?’” he said. “My classmates were nearly all older with advanced degrees and more flying time than I had.”

The current TPS commandant, Col. Ryan Blake, spoke after Collins. He paused to take a “selfie” on stage with his fellow TPS alumni in the background.

“I wish you could see what I’m seeing right now, it occurred to me that my grandkids are never going to believe this; if I tried to describe this evening to them, that I was here when all of you were here, they’re totally not going to believe it,” Blake said.

Blake discussed in length the history of the TPS and spotlighted the past alumni attending the dinner by having them stand up according to the decade they graduated. He then talked about what the future holds for TPS.

“Where do we go from here? Throughout the years, TPS has not remained stagnant. Its curriculum, its aircraft, its length, its focus, have all continued to evolve. Today the domains in which testers must operate continue to multiply, no longer can Air Force testers focus solely, or even maybe primarily, on atmospheric flight,” Blake said. “New threats, new opportunities in the cyber and space domains, among others, will require TPS to continue to evolve.”

“Today TPS is working to establish other formal curricula in other different domains like space and cyber, which will mirror the current curriculum, will allow more specific instruction and hands on exercises in these new domains,” he said “As we do that, we’re going to build on the lessons of the past; how that has helped before and what we are not going to do is lose that magic about TPS.”