Empire Test Pilots' School

The Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS) is a British training school for test pilots and flight test engineers of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft at MoD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, England. It was established in 1943, the first of its type. The school moved to RAF Cranfield in October 1945, then to Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough in July 1947, before returning to Boscombe Down on 29 January 1968.[1]

Active21 June 1943 (1943-06-21) – present
Country United Kingdom
BranchMinistry of Defence (operated by QinetiQ)
Typetest pilot school
RoleTraining of test pilots and flight test engineers
Part ofAir Warfare Centre
Home stationMOD Boscombe Down
Motto(s)Learn to test; test to learn

Its motto is "Learn to test; test to learn".

ETPS is run by the MoD and defence contractor QinetiQ under a long-term agreement.


In 1943, Air Marshal Sir Ralph Sorley, Controller, Research and Development, MAP, formed the "Test Pilots' Training Flight" at RAF Boscombe Down after many pilots died testing the many new aircraft introduced during the Second World War.[2]

On 21 June 1943, the unit became the Test Pilots' School within the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down.[3] The school was "to provide suitably trained pilots for testing duties in aeronautical research and development establishments within the service and the industry".[4] It graduated one group of students, the Number 1 Course, which began in mid-1943 and formally ended on 29 February 1944,[5] before the school's name was changed to the "Empire Test Pilots' School" (ETPS) on 28 July 1944.[1]

The first training course, held by the Commandant, Wing Commander Samuel "Sammy" Wroath with G. Maclaren Humphreys, a civilian, as Technical Instructor, was initially attended by 18 pilots, drawn largely from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy but included three civilian attendees (all from the Bristol Aeroplane Company).[6] Five students found the standard of maths required on the course to be too high and left within the first week;[7] the 13 students who completed the first course comprised 11 from the RAF (including one American, Sqn. Ldr. JC Nelson, who was serving with one of the Eagle Squadrons) and two from the FAA.[8] Of those who attended No. 1 Course, five eventually died testing aircraft.[9]

Due to the rapid growth of the A&AEE, at Boscombe Down, the school moved to RAF Cranfield in October 1945. On 12 July 1947, it was attached to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, where it remained for almost 21 years, flying a wide variety of aircraft types, before returning to Boscombe Down on 29 January 1968.[1]

Until 1963, the course catered to both fixed-wing and rotary-wing pilots, with the latter specializing late in the course. In 1963, a separate rotary-wing course was established,[10] followed in 1974 by a course for Flight test engineers. The school also offers a number of short courses "to meet specific Air Test and Evaluation (AT&E) training needs of the wider flight test community".[11]

In 2001, ETPS was included with those research departments sold off by the Government to Carlyle Group during the formation of QinetiQ. It is now a partnership between QinetiQ and the UK MoD.

The Empire Test Pilots' School was the first of its kind, and was soon followed by other similar schools, such as the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 1944, the United States Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland in 1945 and the EPNER in France (École du Personnel Navigant d'Essais et de Réception) in 1946. Other schools in India (Indian Air Force Test Pilot School in Bangalore) and Japan were established in later years. Some of these schools operate exchange programmes, which expand the variety of aircraft the students have available to them for gaining flight test experience.[12]

In addition to such student exchanges, British, French and American schools share access to their aircraft, so that students can experience a wider range of aircraft types during their respective courses.[13]

ETPS Commandants

Commandants' names prior to 1968 from the ETPS 25th anniversary brochure;[14] 1968–88, from Wing Commander "Robby" Robinson's "Tester Zero One".[15] The term "Commandant" was succeeded in 1976 by "Chief Instructor" and in 1980 by "Officer Commanding".

FromUntilRank/styleNameDecorationsServiceCountryETPS course
1943 1944 Wing Commander (Wg. Cdr.) S. Wroath AFC RAF United Kingdom
1944 1945 Group Captain (Gp. Capt.) JFX McKenna AFC RAF UK
1945 1947 Gp. Capt. HJ Wilson AFC RAF UK
1947 1948 Gp. Capt. S R Ubee AFC RAF UK
1949 1950 Gp. Capt. LS Snaith AFC RAF UK
1950 1953 Gp. Capt. A. E. Clouston DSO, DFC, AFC RAF New Zealand
1953 1957 Gp. Capt. S. Wroath CBE, AFC RAF UK
1957 1959 Gp. Capt. RE Burns CBE, DFC RAF UK
1960 1961 Captain KR Hickson AFC and bar Royal Navy UK No. 4 (1946)
1962 1965 Gp. Capt. RA Watts AFC RAF UK No. 6 (1947)
1966 1969 Gp. Capt. W. J. P. Straker AFC RAF United Kingdom No. 9 (1950)
1969 1970 Capt. (RN) P.C.S. Chilton AFC Royal Navy United Kingdom No. 7 (1948)
1971 1973 Gp. Capt. D.P. Hall AFC RAF United Kingdom No. 18 (1959)
1973 1975 Gp. Capt. H.A. Merriman CBE, AFC RAF United Kingdom No. 16 (1957)
1975 1976 Gp. Capt. M.K. Adams AFC RAF United Kingdom No. 22 FW/No. 1 RW (1963)
1976 1977 Wg. Cdr. J.A. "Robby" Robinson AFC RAF United Kingdom No. 21 (1962)
1977 1980 Wg. Cdr. J.E. Watts-Phillips RAF United Kingdom No. 23 FW (1964)
1981 1985 Wg. Cdr. R.S. Hargreaves Bsc(Eng), MRAeS United Kingdom EPNER 1965–66
1985 1988 Wg. Cdr. J.W.A. Bolton BSc, MRAeS RAF United Kingdom No. 33 FW (1974)
1988 n/a Wg. Cdr. W.L.M. Mayer AFC, MRAeS RAF United Kingdom No. 7 RW (1969)
1996 1998 Wg. Cdr. Laurie Hilditch RAF United Kingdom (USNTPS Class 100 1991)
1998 2001 Wg. Cdr. Dave Best n/a RAF UK No. 48 FW (1989)
2001 2005 Commander (Cdr.) 'Charlie' Brown n/a RN UK No. 47 FW/No. 26 RW (1988)
2006 2007 Cdr. CP Maude n/a RN UK n/a
2007 2009 Cdr. Phil Hayde n/a RN UK n/a
2010 2012 Cdr. Simon Sparkes[16] n/a RN UK No. 37 RW (1999)
2012 2014 Cdr. Mark (Sparky) MacLeod n/a RN UK No. 41 RW (2003)
2014 2017 Cdr. Stephen (Croc) Crockatt n/a RN UK No. 40 RW (2002)
2017 2019 Cdr. Stuart Irwin n/a RN UK No. 50 RW (2012)


As at 18 August 2019 ETPS uses the following types of aircraft:[17]

Rotary wing aircraft

Fixed wing aircraft

ETPS graduates

ETPS graduates who have made significant contributions to aviation and/or space exploration.

To collapse the expanded table, click on "hide"; to expand the collapsed table, click on "show" in the Name column header.

Baudry, PatrickNo. 37 FW1978Flew aboard NASA's Space Shuttle 1985 mission STS-51-G.
de Winne, FrankNo. 51 FW1992The first European Space Agency astronaut to command a space mission when he served as commander of the 2009 International Space Station Expedition 21, his second ISS mission.
Cheli, MaurizioNo. 47 FW1988European Space Agency astronaut aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-75 (with Claude Nicollier, another ETPS graduate) in 1995.
Duke, NevilleNo. 4/51946/7World War II Fighter ace, later test pilot at Hawker Aircraft. On 7 September 1953, Duke set a new world air speed record of 727.63 mph (1,171.01 km/h), flying Hunter WB188.
Giddings, MichaelNo. 4/51946/7Air Marshal Sir Kenneth Charles Michael Giddings KCB, OBE, DFC, AFC & Bar
Goodhart, NicholasNo. 41946Rear Admiral H.C.Nicholas 'Nick' Goodhart, CB, Legion of Merit, FRAeS, RN rtd, invented the mirror-sight deck landing system for aircraft carriers; record-breaking glider pilot; holder of the Royal Aero Club's Silver medal and the FAI's Paul Tissandier Diploma for "those who have served the cause of Aviation in general and Sporting Aviation in particular, by their work, initiative, devotion or in other ways"
Haigneré, Jean-PierreNo. 40 FW1981French Air Force pilot, later CNES and ESA cosmonaut on the 1993 Franco-Russian Altaïr and 1999 Soyuz TM-29 missions to the Mir space station
Hammond, L. Blaine Jr.No. 40 FW1981USAF pilot and NASA astonaut; flew on Space Shuttle missions STS-39 and STS-64
Iven Carl Kincheloe Jr.No. 121954USAF test pilot
McCulley, Michael J.Captain, US Navy and NASA astronaut who was pilot of the 1989 Space Shuttle mission STS-34
Muehlberg, John R.No. 21944/45Lt.-Col. USAF, first Commandant of the US Air Force Test Pilot School
Nicholson, PeterNo. 32 FW1973Air Vice-Marshal Peter Nicholson, appointed Air Commander Australia on 9 April 1996; admitted as an Officer of the Order of Australia in the 1999 Australia Day Honours[18]
Nicollier, ClaudeNo. 47 FW1988First astronaut from Switzerland; has flown on four Space Shuttle missions: STS-46, STS-61, STS-75 (with Maurizio Cheli, another ETPS graduate) and STS-103; full professor of Spatial Technology at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne from 2007
Peake, TimothyNo. 43 RW2005Former British Army Air Corps helicopter pilot, he is the first British citizen to be selected as an astronaut by ESA.
Pogue, BillNo. 22 FW1963Pilot of Skylab 4 (1973–74).
Tognini, MichelNo. 41 FW1982French and ESA astronaut who served on the 1992 Soyuz TM-15 and 1999 Space Shuttle Columbia STS-93 missions.
Twiss, PeterNo. 31945On 10 March 1956 in the Fairey Delta 2, a supersonic delta-winged research plane, Twiss raised the world air speed record from 822.1 mph (1,323 km/h) to 1,132 mph (1811 km/h). The FD2 was the first aircraft to exceed 1,000 mph in level flight.
Worden, AlNo. 23 FW1964Command module pilot for the 1971 Apollo 15 moon mission.
Żurakowski, JanuszNo. 21944/45Highly decorated Polish and RAF World War II Spitfire pilot, later test pilot with Glosters (Meteor, Javelin) and Avro Canada (Arrow).

Course Trophies and Awards

Recipients' names prior to 1968 are taken from the ETPS 25th anniversary brochure.[14] Others up to and including 1983, unless otherwise stated, from Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, pp. 124–36.

In the tables of trophy winners the following abbreviation are used in the course names:

  • FW:  Fixed wing
  • RW:  Rotary wing
  • FTE: Flight test engineer

      The individual was killed in an aviation accident.

McKenna Trophy

In memory of the second Commandant of the School, Group Captain JFX McKenna, AFC, killed in a flying accident while serving in that post.[lower-alpha 1][19] Initially the school awarded the McKenna Trophy to the best fixed-wing student, but it is now open to the rotary-wing course as well.

To expand the collapsed table, click on "show" in the Year column header; to collapse again, choose "hide".

Edwards Trophy

This trophy is awarded by the Edwards Air Force Base in California to the student who makes the greatest progress on the course.

To expand the collapsed table, click on "show" in the Year column header; to collapse the expanded table, click on "hide".

Hawker Hunter Trophy

This trophy, a model of the Hawker Hunter, was first awarded in 1960 by the Hawker Aircraft Company to the student who wrote the best Preview Handling report on the course. Since 1966 syndicates of two or three students have carried out the Preview Exercise; the trophy is awarded to the best team.

To expand the collapsed table, click on "show" in the Year column header; to collapse again, click on "hide".

Patuxent Shield

This trophy, instituted in 1961, is awarded by the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Patuxent River, to the runner-up for the McKenna Trophy.

To expand the collapsed table, click on "show" in the Year column header; to collapse again, click on "hide".

Westland Trophy

The Westland Trophy, originally presented by Westland Aircraft Limited in 1963, is awarded to the best all-round student on the Rotary Wing Course.

To expand the collapsed table, click on "show" in the Year column header; to collapse again, click on "hide".

Sir Alan Cobham Award

Presented to ETPS in 1974 by Michael Cobham, son of Sir Alan Cobham, this trophy is awarded to the fixed wing student who demonstrates the highest standard of flying during the course. The trophy is a silver model of a Short Singapore II flying-boat, which was originally awarded to Sir Alan and his wife in 1928 "in commemoration of their epic circuit of Africa flight in 1927 in such a flying-boat".[45]

To expand the collapsed table, click on "show" in the Year column header; to collapse the expanded table, click on "hide".

Dunlop Trophy

The Dunlop Trophy, initially awarded by the Dunlop Rubber company in 1974, is awarded to the best student on each Flight Test Engineers' course.

To expand the collapsed table, click on "show" in the Year column header; to collapse the expanded table, click on "hide".

See also



  1. On 19 January 1945 flying a North American Mustang IV, when an ammunition box cover detached at high speed, causing structural failure of a wing. The aircraft crashed on the perimeter of Old Sarum airfield.
  2. Sqn. Ldr. Whittome died in a flying accident in a Spitfire in 1948.[22]
  3. Flt. Lt. Hough died in a flying accident in a Sycamore in 1953.[23]
  4. Ross died in a flying accident in a Javelin in 1954.[24]
  5. Capt. Fryklund died in a flying accident in 1954.[24]
  6. Capt. Bignamini died in a flying accident.[24]
  7. Died in an accident in a F-100 Super Sabre while on Reserve training with the Air National Guard in 1965.[25]
  8. Died in a flying accident on 10 August 1976.[39]
  9. A. Shaked died in a flying accident in a Dornier Do 28.[40]


  1. Sturtivant 1997, p. 112.
  2. "Origins of Flight Test". ETPS. QinetiQ. Archived from the original on 7 March 2010. Retrieved 3 April 2010.
  3. Sturtivant 1997, p. 44.
  4. Johnson 1986, p. 19.
  5. Johnson 1986, p. 31.
  6. Johnson 1986, p. 23.
  7. Johnson 1986, p. 25.
  8. Johnson 1986, p. 27.
  9. Johnson 1986, p. 32.
  10. Field, Hugh (8 March 1973). "Learning to Test". Flight International. Flight global. 103 (3339): 340. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
  11. "Short Courses". ETPS. QinetiQ. Archived from the original on 12 May 2010. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
  12. Johnson 1986, pp. 39, 40.
  13. "Learning to Test". Flight International. Flight global. 158 (4757): 41. 4 December 2000. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  14. ETPS 1968.
  15. Robinson 2007, p. 280.
  16. "CO ETPS", Our training team, QinetiQ, 2010.
  17. "Our Aircraft". ETPS. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  18. Australian Chapter, The Association of Old Crows.
  19. "1940–45", Test Flying Memorial of British test pilots and engineers dead while test-flying .
  20. "DR Cuming", The Canberra Times (biographical detail), 17 April 2002.
  21. "Test Pilots Dine – Passing-out Dinner and Presentation of McKenna Trophy at Cranfield". Flight Magazine. 95 (LI): 238. 20 March 1947. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  22. Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, p. 126.
  23. Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, p. 127.
  24. Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, p. 128.
  25. Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, p. 130.
  26. Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, p. 83.
  27. "ETPS – The McKenna Dinner". Flight Magazine. 102 (3329): 917. 28 December 1972. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
  28. "Chief Test Pilot Thomas Morgenfeld". AIAA Savannah. 2010. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2010.
  29. "ETPS McKenna Dinner". Flight International. 113 (3592): 172. 21 January 1978. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
  30. "Boscombe Down Pilots' Award". Flight International. 114 (3640): 2239. 22 December 1978. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
  31. "The Empire Test Pilots' School End-of-Course McKenna Dinner". Flight International. 119 (3741): 10. 17 January 1981. Retrieved 7 April 2010.
  32. Johnson 1986, p. 270.
  33. "NASA Astronauts with Texas Roots". Texas Space Grant Consortium. 1 August 2004. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  34. "Astronaut biography – Frank de Winne". European Space Agency. 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  35. "Royal Navy to celebrate centenary of naval aviation with flypast over HMS Illustrious in London". Your Defence News. Red Mist Media. 1 May 2009. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  36. "Trophies", The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 2001
  37. "Top Stories: Best Test Pilot". Airforce News. AU: Defence Public Affairs and Corporate Communication; Directorate of Internal Communications. 45 (3). 13 March 2003. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  38. "Pilots". The Yakovlevs (air display team). 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  39. Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, p. 131.
  40. Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, p. 133.
  41. "Newsletter" (PDF). The Hawker Association. 2006. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  42. Farley, John (18 February 2007). "Aviators Extraordinary". PPRuNe. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  43. "Astronaut biography – Michel Tognini". European Space Agency. 21 November 2005. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  44. "Eric Fitzpatrick". Empire Test Pilots' School. QinetiQ. Archived from the original on 18 April 2011. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  45. Rawlings & Sedgwick 1991, p. 90.
  46. "Test & Research Pilots" (Blogger), Flight Test Engineers (web log), January 2008.
  47. Leo, Jeoh (2007). "Tech Edge: Near-Space, Near Future". Pointer: Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces. Government of Singapore. 33 (1). Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  48. Alle Hens: Logboek – Wie Wat Waar (PDF) (in Dutch), Royal Netherlands Navy, 2009, p. 35, retrieved 11 April 2010


  • The Empire Test Pilots' School – Twenty Five Years (brochure)|format= requires |url= (help) (4 ed.), HMSO for The Empire Test Pilots' School, 1968, 68 pp.
  • Johnson, Brian (1986), Test Pilot, BBC Books, p. 287, ISBN 0-563-20502-4.
  • Rawlings, John; Sedgwick, Hilary (1991), Learn to Test, Test to Learn – The History of the Empire Test Pilots' School, Shrewsbury: Airlife, p. 138, ISBN 1-85310-080-3.
  • Robinson, JA 'Robby' (2007), Tester Zero One, Old Forge Publishing, ISBN 978-1-906183-00-4.
  • Sturtivant, Ray (1997), Royal Air Force Flying Training and Support Units, Air Britain (Historians), ISBN 0-85130-252-1.
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