Test Drivers

Behind the glamour boys in X-planes is an entire profession making sure your Cessna has its wings on straight.

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The Comanche’s tail failed, but fortunately did not tear off the airplane, and the future lunar module pilot was able to land the crippled twin on Edwards’ dry lake. As a result of Haise’s experience, the FAA sent out an airworthiness directive that more than likely saved many lives. “I had a chase plane shooting the whole thing,” Haise adds. “The airplane looks like a bird flapping its wings. I understand the Air Force Test Pilot School still uses the footage as part of its curriculum.”

Test flights that become case studies for budding test pilots are rare. Usually pilots can spend their time doing what they do best: helping make good airplanes better—and having some fun in the process. Back aboard the multi-million-dollar Premier-I prototype, Bill Vavra and I are hauling the mail at 17,000 feet when Vavra suddenly turns to me and offers the controls. “Have some fun,” he says. “Really wring her out.” Soon we are skimming the cloud tops as I do my poor imitation of “really wringing her out.” But as no alarm bells are chiming, Vavra leans back in his seat and smiles. “You want to know what the best part of being a test pilot is?” he says. “This is it. We’re flying a high-performance jet, having a blast, and there is nobody in back so you don’t have to worry about them [dropping] their doughnuts.”


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