How a test flight is made
In mid-October 2016 SAS was ready to take delivery of the first of 30 new A320neo planes as part of the upgrade of the short and medium haul fleet. But before that could happen two pilots – SAS Fleet Chief Pilot Ole Jørgen Jørgensen and Project Tech Pilot Ørjan Goteman – needed to make sure everything was in order.
For 90 minutes Jørgensen made the first SAS A320neo acceptance flight in the skies over Hamburg, Germany. During the flight he made sure that the plane was behaving according to specifications, testing the radios, the data communications, the displays, the engines, and the landing systems. Once that he confirmed that everything was in order the papers were signed, the plane was bought, and it was all systems go.
“Airbus does the initial test flight when the plane comes off the production line,” says Fleet Chief Pilot Ole Jørgen Jörgensen. “When we arrive to take delivery we use something called a CAM – the Customer Acceptance Manual.”
According to Project Tech Pilot Ørjan Goteman, who did the acceptance flight for the second A320neo to be delivered, acceptance flights are slightly less comprehensive than a test flight but they are no less important.
“It’s a fixed manual we check against,” says Project Tech Pilot Ørjan Goteman. “In addition, we cherry pick aspects of the production test flight protocol that might have been a bit wonky. The flight envelope is inside the certified limits of the aircraft – but well outside the flight you would encounter on a passenger flight.
“Routinely we check the flight control authority by flying up to 30 degrees pitch up and 67 degrees bank, followed by 15 degrees pitch down. This is preferably done in a smooth and continuous meneuver. The air condition packs are then switched off at 31 000 feet to check cabin depressurization rate. After a descent to below 14 000 we check the low speed characterisitcs of the aircraft, flying at absolutely minimum speed (maximum alpha) with the aircraft in landing configuration. Lazy eights are also performed: climbing up and then turning back with max back up. It’s a great feeling if you do it quite softly.”
Who are SAS’s test pilots?
Ole Jørgen Jørgensen
SAS Flight Chief
Family: Wife, two children
Career: Fell in love with planes when he was 5-years-old; 17 years in the Air Force, became certified test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California before becoming a commercial pilot. 20 years at SAS Flight Operations. Will return to flying regular flights before retiring in a few years.
SAS Project Tech Pilot
Family: Wife, three children
Career: Began career in the Air Force before training as a medical doctor and surgeon. Had to choose between medicine and flying. Chose flying. PhD in engineering. SAS training pilot and technical pilot, also does line flying.
Once the pilots verify everything is in order they sign the papers, then fly the empty plane back to SAS homebase, where small modifications are made to give the aircraft the SAS flair.
Jørgensen says SAS has been working on purchasing the A320 neo for a long time so the entire SAS Airbus office has been geared up and ready for the new planes to arrive.
“For the passengers the comfort is taken to a new level, and for the environment it burns 15% less fuel than the present planes,” says Jørgensen. “But for us, the pilots, the Neo is the greatest working environment possible. There’s no comparison when it comes to the cockpit and flying experience, and all the pilots are eager to get into this plane.”
Pilots typically sit in their ‘office’ – the cockpit – around 8-9 hours a day, and often up to 13 hours a day. But while other planes have small, narrow, and not very comfortable cockpits, the Neo cockpit has a wider, roomier cockpit, a tray that can be pulled up for eating, and most importantly a quieter environment. In short, pilots say the A320neo is the best, most modern ‘office’ they could hope for.
“The lower noise level is really noticeable,” says Goteman. “We don’t need to wear headsets all the time due to the lower noise, other than during take off, landing, and taxiing. This is my office and things like this really count.”
Passengers have also commented on the reduced noise.
“I flew the first A320 neo commercial flight, from Stockholm to Copenhagen,” says Jørgensen. “So many passengers came up to me after we landed to tell me that the flight was noticeably quieter. This is a great investment for SAS as we move into the future.”
One thing that will continue to keep SAS moving into the future is the capability of the A320neo to make approaches on a curved path.
“Most aircraft do straight approaches,” says Goteman. “But the Neo can fly exactly on the curved path, which avoids noise and obstacles. We don’t need a ground transmitter – we use GPS just like you do in your car, except on a much higher scale. The entire shorthaul fleet will be capable of making curved approaches in the future.”
Being a test pilot means you don’t just test new planes, though; pilots also test aircraft that have undergone heavy maintenance, such as changing out two engines.
“These types of test flights are even more fun,” says Goteman. “And this is when we go all in. We test absolutely everything: the limits of high speed, low speed and manoeuvrability.”
SAS has just 8-10 test pilots and becoming one takes a particular set of skills. Goteman and Jørgensen say the most important thing is the right attitude: you have to be capable of both getting into the details but also know when they’re not important – and you need the ability to cope in situations without full support, which means you do the best you can while getting on with the main objective.
“You of course need to be a good pilot,” says Goteman. ”But you also have to have an overview of both technical and operational aspects, as well as be aware of the priorities of the exercises. Thinking on your feet – making decisions in the moment and knowing how to respond – that’s really key because we can’t always predict what will happen.”
SAS will take delivery of 30 A320 neos over the next several years and Goteman and Jørgensen will be on hand to make sure everything is in order before flying the planes to homebase. The two men love what they do and seem to perfectly compliment one another.
“I’m more the thorough theoretical guy and Ole is more the test pilot guy,” says Goteman. “So together we make a great team.”
Text: Judi Lembke