Cessna flight ops—huge, diverse and tasked with many different missions

Company pilots flew more than 21,000 hrs in 2010 to accomplish flight test ops, demos and exec transportation.

Chief Pilot for Piston Engine Flight Ops Kirby Ortega (L) and Senior Instructor Pilot Jeremy Schrag, with a test rig used to familiarize students with the Garmin G1000 avionics installation at the company's facility in IDP.

The Engineering Flight Test Program is under a closely similar schedule, with the ops manual scheduled for conversion to SMS format by mid-2011, leading to an IS-BAO audit in 2012.

In addition to its SMS, the Cessna flight department conducts an annual safety standdown for all personnel. The event focuses on safety topics pertinent to current operations and conditions, and brings in industry speakers and experts.

Another annual training event for the department is a threat risk assessment training program, provided in conjunction with a world security update—a critical element for a department that conducts 33% of its operations outside the US.

Specialized operational training is also part of the annual pilot training package, including sessions on icing, thunderstorms, mountain operations, international ops and demo flying.

Production flight test

If the flight department's demo/transportation segment has parallels with a traditional corporate flight department, the production flight test and engineering flight test functions represent worlds so far different that Dirks says neither role really constitutes a flying job.

"Production flight test," he says, "analyzes the aircraft through the eyes of the design team, FAA and the customer. It's a profession that tests, records and communicates. The skill of flying is just a tool one uses to do the job."

Cessna's production test function is combined with customer support. The department maintains production test teams at ICT and IDP, and Production Flight Test Dir Mark Zerener is responsible for both locations.

The ICT team has 18 members, including a production support chief pilot, a delivery and customer support ops manager, an ops business manager, a dispatcher and 14 pilots whose jobs all entail duties beyond flight activity. Collectively they support the Caravan and Citation production lines, as well as the ICT Citation Service Center and used Citation sales. Last year the ICT team conducted more than 1700 flights totaling more than 2200 flight hours.

The IDP team has 13 members, including a production support chief pilot, a delivery and customer support ops manager, a dispatcher and 10 pilots with additional duties. The IDP team supports Cessna's piston singles and the Citation Mustang, which are all built at IDP. The IDP team flew more than 2200 flights last year, totaling more than 1800 flight hours.

IDP is home to Cessna's single-engine training program, which teaches customers to operate the Garmin G1000 and transition into Cessna's piston-engined high-wing aircraft and the Corvalis series.

Both ICT and IDP production flight test organizations exist to serve 3 primary requirements:

• Meet FAA regs requiring manufacturers to flight test every aircraft they build, using approved test procedures. FAA maintains oversight and periodically audits the process.
• Ensure that product quality is maintained and improved continuously. The pilots are expected to identify opportunities for product improvements and cost efficiencies, as well as providing a customer's prospective on each airplane the company builds.
• Support the customer's needs. Production test pilots are expected to be advocates for the customer, serving as part of the team representing the aircraft at delivery. They also provide Cessna service centers with pilot support worldwide.

It takes 3–5 years of experience and training to develop a production test pilot, Dirks says.

The current group of pilots have a wide range of flight experience, some of it external, some homegrown, drawn from other flight assignments in the company. Some actually started flying in the Cessna Employees Flying Club.

A perk of production flight test not found in too many pilot positions is a predictable schedule. At Cessna, production flight test pilots work a 40 to 45-hr week, covering the whole 7-day-per-week production and delivery schedule. Since the schedule is established at the beginning of the year, pilots can predict their days off with certainty.

Production Flight Test Senior Pilot & Safety Specialist Mike Graham serves as the interface with Safety Mgr Dan Grace. Training is accomplished regularly, with the average pilot in the department attending FSI every 4 months. More than 90% of Cessna production flight test pilots and other group members hold Six Sigma Green Belt certification.

Because production flight test is closely aligned with delivery, Cessna's customer delivery function is also a part of the flight department, reporting to Dirks. Joe Westeman is manager of Delivery Coordination and Randy Fayette serves as value stream manager. Together they direct a 7-employee team that operates Cessna's delivery center and works closely with customers. The department's goal is to give customers the highest level of product quality and customer service.

Engineering flight test

In some ways the engineering flight test operation is even more specialized than production flight test. It can take 10 years to develop an engineering flight pilot, most of whom begin as flight test engineers before becoming test pilots.

And as with production flight test, Dirks believes that being an engineering test pilot "is not just a flying job—it's an engineering job." Responsibilities include test planning, data analysis, and report preparation and approval.

Test pilots coordinate aircraft design requirements with the company's program management and engineering groups, and, he notes, are likely to spend more time in meetings than flying airplanes. They are closely involved with the advanced design of new products.

The engineering flight test group has its own fleet of 26 aircraft, including 9 Citations. Of this fleet, 20 are fully instrumented to deliver near-real-time flight data back to telemetry stations on the ground. In addition to instrumentation, most flight test airplanes have equipment not found on corporate aircraft, such as spin chute systems, escape doors and other aircrew life support equipment and aircraft safety systems.

Engineering Flight Test Dir Dave Bonifield heads the test group, which includes 23 test pilots, 37 flight test engineers and 3 support staff. The group is subdivided into 3 operations groups covering Part 25 jets, Part 23 jets and propeller aircraft, which includes coverage of Cessna's legacy twins.

Part of the engineering flight test function is to support out-of-production aircraft that may be subject to ADs or aging aircraft issues. Other functions include flight test engineering, certification and test support, and safety management.

Cessna operates the most indepth flight test department in the industry, with programs ranging from the SkyCatcher LSA to the Part 25 Citation series, and including Part 23 piston and turboprop models as well as Part 23 jets. The group is responsible for inhouse development and certification of new and sustaining aircraft models, as well as external STC mods and certification support.


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