By, Carl E. Chance, Editor
Wings Over Kansas
Dr. Lionel D. Alford, Jr., Ph.D. is an independent design engineer, program manager, and experimental test pilot currently working for Hawker Beechcraft as a consulting engineer and test pilot on the AT-6C trainer program.
In the Beginning:
It has long been accepted throughout the course of history in the development of aircraft, that the test pilot has always been the Lone-Eagle in the cockpit, and the last word in the future of any airplane. So it was for the late Mort Brown, Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame recipient, aviator and Cessna Chief Pilot of Production Flight Test in Wichita, Kansas. And so it is today that the legacy continues with test pilot, Dr. Lionel D. Alford, Jr., at Hawker Beechcraft as he puts the new and modified aircraft through its test trials and pushes it beyond the limits in flying specific maneuvers. Today, we have improved ground-testing and simulation of aircraft performance. A much-improved scenario since Mort Brown’s days as a test pilot. Even so, piloting new and experimental aircraft still remains much more risky and dangerous than most other types of flying.
Today’s Test Pilot:
Test pilots still must operate with a test plan that is followed explicitly, while putting an aircraft through predetermined maneuvers. The results of those tests must be documented. A good test pilot needs to have a sensitivity for the way an aircraft handles and know exactly how and why it may be acting uncharacteristically if that’s a result that the test pilot senses. Obviously if anything seriously goes wrong with the aircraft during a flight test, the test pilot must think quickly and react appropriately, oftentimes dealing with several different problems at once.
Dr. Lionel D. Alford’s Test Pilot Profile:
Dr. Alford is an active member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. A brief summary of his military career as a test pilot reads as follows: Selected to attend the USAF Test Pilot School. Was the chief test pilot for many critical aircraft programs. He made the first flight and was the program manager for an extensively modified Air Force Sabreliner. While stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, he managed and was the senior evaluator for the Air Force T-39 fleet and ran the Air Force Testing Commercial Aircraft for Military Applications (TCAMA) office. He was a test pilot for the newest Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) aircraft and the Chief of the T&E Division overseeing tests for all nine AFSOC aircraft types and all AF rotary-wing and tilt-wing aircraft. Lieutenant Colonel Alford worked in Headquarters Air Force Material Command as the Chief Test and Evaluation Policy Manager for Air Force developmental test. Alford was selected three times by the AF to compete at NASA for the position of pilot astronaut.
Today’s test pilot as Dr. Alford demonstrates, continue on as one of the direct descendents in the legacy of countless hundreds of test pilots, leaving their indelible mark on Kansas, the U.S., and on the world aviation communities.
Three Days of AT-6C Flight Testing at Hawker Beechcraft:
Dr. Alford’s latest three test flights in the AT-6C are chronicled in the latest excerpts as follows, which took place in a span of three days.
28 October 2011
“Third flight in the T-6C, and I had a copilot checkout.
What a great opportunity: the aircraft had to go up on a FCF (Functional Check Flight) and the back seat was open. Plus they wanted to give me a copilot check ride so I could build hours and fly in other aircraft. That basically puts me on the official pilot list. I’ve never had a flight check so quickly, but I’ve never flown a flight like this since test pilot school.
From the first, this has been an outstanding training and checkout. In most training programs they treat you like the minimal airman, in this training, I’ve felt like my skills and level have been fully appreciated. The training has been fantastic, but at the level that fit my capability.
So, on this flight, the first flight I’ve ever sat in the back of a T-6, during an simulated flameout pattern (SFO) (the second I’ve ever flown in the aircraft), I landed the aircraft (from the backseat) and took it into the Eldorado pattern to get every flap configuration landing the aircraft was capable of. The reason this is such a big deal is that to get to the back seat in the Air Force usually takes weeks of training and prep.
Then I flew over to Newton (EWK) and flew a GPS approach to a missed and back up for an ILS procedure turn to a missed and then back for holding.
We returned to Beech Field for an overhead and three more patterns. So, how was that firehose? I passed my check and now I’m a company copilot. Onward and upward.”
26 October 2011
“Second flight in the T-6. I’m flying a T-6C to be exact. It has the regular engine, but some advanced cockpit features. In general, this flight was about how to use the FMS (Flight Management System). The book is tough to figure out, but with some great instruction and hands-on training, I think I have it figured out. I was able to use it while flying.
It’s a pretty complex system and I’m glad of my experience in other aircraft with other FMS systems. Of course, in most training programs, they put you through a week of class and a bunch of simulators before they let you touch an aircraft. I’m happy my training is the way it is. At test pilot school, they teach you to read the manual, get in the aircraft and fly it the next day. I’m used to it, and like I said before, the T-6 is a great and easy aircraft to fly.
The flight was out to EMP (Emporia) to Newton (EWK) and then Beech Field (BEC). All for approaches and to use the FMS.
We did have a small MX issue with the gear warning system, but everything went well. I didn’t get any landings—whaa.”
25 October 2011
“Well I started my training in the T-6 today to prepare to fly the AT-6 as a test pilot. I hope to have more to report and more often.
The flight was a basic qual out to the area and approaches to Newton (EWK) and Beech Field (BEC). I put the aircraft through its paces: a good climb, some easy acro, stalls, pattern stalls, a spin, some air to air work, some air to ground work (simulated), then off to Newton.
Hey, this is a really cool aircraft to fly. It’s easy to get going. It starts nice. It has power and is very nimble. The kids going off for the US and other militaries to learn to fly have it great.
I took a lot of Test Pilot data I won’t share, but it was mostly all good. Remember, all aircraft have snakes, and the job of the test pilot is to find the snakes.
I like flying the T-6. The AT-6 will be even more exciting.”
To read previous diary postings of Dr. Alford’s blogcast, please access www.wingsoverkansas.com and scroll down the page to find it in the left column opposite “Special Subjects.”
The Beechcraft T-6C Trainer Statistics:
The T-6C offers the world’s most proven and cost-effective training system available, according to Jim Maslowski, HBC president, U.S. and International Government Business. Additionally, it accommodates instruction in instrument flight procedures and basic aerial maneuvers and, including its predecessors the T-6A and T-6B, has accounted for well over 600 deliveries worldwide.
Maslowski further pointed out that the T-6C aircraft features an integrated glass cockpit and advanced avionics suite the greatly expands advanced training opportunities, including a Head-Up display, Up Front Control Panel, three Multifunction Displays and Hands-On Throttle and stick. With its hard point wing, it can accommodate external fuel tanks and the systems and capabilities of today’s front-line strike fighter aircraft, while retaining all the inherent training and flying characteristics that have made the T-6 the most successful primary trainer in the world. The Beechcraft T-6 delivers an outstanding training capability that is appropriate for most basic introductory flight training through more challenging and complex advanced training missions. To date, it has been used to train pilots from approximately 50 different countries.
The Beechcraft AT-6 capabilities cover a wide-mission spectrum that includes not only training, but also manned Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and light precision attack, while at the same time offering non-traditional capabilities for homeland defense and civil support missions.
With the current upgrade to a more powerful 1600 Shaft Horsepower Pratt and Whitney PT6A-68D engine, the AT-6 is a structurally strengthened derivative of the proven Beechcraft T-6 Trainer. Adding to the FAA approved primary flight avionics system by CMC Esterline; Lockheed Martin leveraged A-10C precision engagement modification capabilities in integrating the mission avionics of the AT-6. The result has been a plug-and-play mission system architecture that combines state-of-the-art data link, combat communications capabilities, extensive variety of weapons delivery modes and precision weapons tailored for the AT-6.
Although Dr. Alford states that the At-6C is a “hoot” to fly, it also offers the ground spectator a tremendous and thrilling sight and sound as it does in a high-speed low pass while making a banking turn to the left.
To view a video of the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 in Refueling and Rearming tests, please click on, www.wingsoverkansas.com/video/article.asp?id=1458.
Lionel D. Alford, Jr. Bio.
Dr. Lionel D. Alford, Jr., Ph.D. is an independent design engineer, program manager, and experimental test pilot currently working with Hawker Beechcraft on the AT-6C Trainer and had formerly consulted for Defense Research Associates, Flint Hills Solutions, EG&G, AirLaunch Systems, the University of Dayton Technical Institute and the University of Dayton. Dr. Alford completed his Ph.D. with a DAGSI (Dayton Area Graduate Studies Institute) scholarship at the University of Dayton with his dissertation Aerodynamic Analysis of Natural Flapping Flight Using a Lift Model Based on Spanwise Flow. His expertise is in low speed and spanwise flows on aerodynamic structures, and he holds a patent for the Capped Helix Winglet (CHeW), a blended winglet design. Alford is a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, and an experimental test pilot with over 6000 hours in more than 60 different kinds of aircraft. He is an active member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Daedalians, the Airlift/Tanker Association, and the Air Force Association. During his Air Force career, Alford served in four operational Air Force combat squadrons and led missions in North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Central America. He lived in Germany as a Forward Air Controller flying the OV-10A Bronco and supported the 1/16, 1st Infantry Division US Army. As a C-21A (Lear 35) Instructor Pilot, he was the pilot for the CINCSAC (Commander in Chief Strategic Air Command). He led the Training Division of the 317th Tactical Airlift Wing during Desert Storm/Shield and trained tactical airlift pilots to fly the C-130 in critical airlift and special operations missions in Europe, Central America, and South West Asia. Based on his flight experience and his M.S. Engineering degree, Alford was selected to attend the USAF Test Pilot School. After graduation, he was the chief test pilot for many critical aircraft programs. He made the first flight and was the program manager for an extensively modified Air Force Sabreliner. While stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, he managed and was the senior evaluator for the Air Force T-39 fleet and ran the Air Force Testing Commercial Aircraft for Military Applications (TCAMA) office. He was a test pilot for the newest Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) aircraft and the Chief of the T&E Division overseeing test for all nine AFSOC aircraft types and all AF rotary-wing and tilt-wing aircraft. Lieutenant Colonel Alford worked in Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command as the Chief Test and Evaluation Policy Manager for Air Force developmental test. He was the Chief of System Safety Engineering for the Mobility Systems System Program Office at the Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He is a prolific writer and a dynamic speaker who has published and presented over 40 papers and articles in international forums and journals. He is the author of 3 historical fiction novels, Centurion 2008, Aegypt 2008, and The Second Mission, 2003, and 3 science fiction novels, The End of Honor, The Fox’s Honor, and A Season of Honor, published as a series in 2008. Alford was selected three times by the AF to compete at NASA for the position of pilot astronaut. Alford is married to the former Tammy Nix. They have four children: Tanna, Christin, Erin, and Devon.
Dr. Alford serves as a valued Contributing Editor to the web site, www.wingsoverkansas.com. Read his Military Aviation Adventures from his page on the web site.
Aircraft photos are courtesy, Hawker Beechcraft with statistical exerpts from a news release dated, Oct. 5, 2010.