Flying with the Founder: Flight Testing

Engineers at Tamarack have been hard at work preparing the SMARTWING™ modified King Air for flight. But what exactly goes into all the preparation, and how exactly do you test a new modification? Founder & CEO Nick Guida takes us along the process and what exactly flight testing entails.

Flight testing is a culmination, or the endpoint, of a great deal of work that goes into the development, design, and product, in our case the load alleviation technology. Everything about it is extremely strategic and meticulous. Flight characteristics are tested first, which is how an airplane acts, responds to control inputs, and whether it meets regulations in regards to stability, stall characteristics, speeds, and more. Basically, we want the most boring flight tests ever. We do it in such a way that we clearly define overall goals, and gradually build up over time. As an example, if you’re trying to do ten pull-ups, you don’t just try to do ten pull-ups if you’ve never done one. You work on the movements, build up strength, adjust where you need to, work up to one successful pull-up, then over time accomplish your goal of ten. With flight testing, it’s a long, extremely detailed process.

When the technology is ready, it starts with a baseline aircraft from the factory. Then data acquisition sensors are installed to record certain characteristics for analysis, which include airspeed, altitude, atmospheric conditions, structural loads in the wing, and much more. We want to know everything about the plane before flight testing begins, and even before we install our technology.

Then we actually fly the baseline plane and confirm everything meets current regulations and that there aren’t any issues. Even though a plane from the factory might be legal and airworthy, it may have a particular characteristic, such as stalling in one direction, climbing better or worse than by the book, or the numbers might be different. There are rigorous requirements on how the airplane is supposed to handle, so we must know everything.

Before every flight, we do a pre-flight brief, discuss instrumentation, if it’s had any maintenance, the overall goal of the flight, weather, emergency procedures, and what we expect to happen. After the flight, we do a post-flight brief, and review what we saw, what corrections need to be made, and what to do better next time.

Ideally, flight testing is uneventful because you should be able to anticipate everything that occurs. After confirming the plane is safe, we might fly 3-4 times a day, in little spurts covering different aspects for each flight. Our strategy is to make small changes incrementally rather than many at once. We start very specifically, maybe at a lower speed, a specific altitude, and do a few maneuvers, then regroup and discuss results. On the next flight, maybe a faster speed, more rudder, etc. Surprises are incremental as opposed to something big and we can make tweaks. The main focus is on safety because every plane out there has been through rigorous flight testing, including our system on the CitationJets. As we move onto the King Air, it’s a much different aircraft, with different weight, size, and engines. We must build up in a manner that respects the flight test and goals.

Flight testing for me is exciting because I get to see the younger engineers learn so much and it’s really inspiring for us as a team. I’ve been doing this for a long time, since I was a Flight Test Engineer at Boeing, and truly enjoy the whole process. I like to be really involved, especially going on those early flights. I’ve had this unique opportunity as an aerospace engineer to dream up, design, build, and then fly my own inventions, and as a team, we now build and test them together.

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