by Jim Fawcett

This article first appeared in the September 2018 Flight Test News.

The 49th Annual International Symposium in Savannah hasn’t even happened yet, but along with a small group of colleagues, I’m already involved in the early stages of planning for the 2019 event, to be held in Toulouse, France. Unless my first grade math has let me down, that will make it the 50th symposium—wow, a whole half century of rich, technical exchanges about the latest in flight testing! So it seemed somehow appropriate when Al Lawless, Chairman of the Technical Council, recently asked me to look back through the mists of time to see what delegates were talking about five decades ago at the 2nd symposium held in the late summer of 1971.

“International” didn’t feature in the title of that meet, held at Saint Mary’s College in Maryland, which focused on test and evaluation of automatic control systems. Indeed, a quick glance through the names and affiliations of the speakers reveals the US-based origins of the SFTE. It wasn’t billed as an “annual” symposium either. I guess in those early formative years it wasn’t easy to predict the health of the fledgling SFTE more than a few months ahead.

Despite those missing two words, the essential spirit of an SFTE symposium was clearly just as present in 1971 as it is today: experts and pioneers in different flight testing domains sharing their experiences–positive or negative, significant or incremental–so that those following on might better perform their task. For sure, looking back with the benefit of nearly 50 years of technological advances, some of the presented ideas and concepts seem incredibly rudimentary: 4NM of precision from the OMEGA long range navigation system was considered impressive and 8K of memory in a digital computer was state-of-the-art. Regardless, 1971 delegates would no doubt have performed their task better in 1972, in turn paving the way for 1973 attendees to further raise the bar, and so on and so forth until the present day.

As such, I wish good luck to the organizing team from the Coastal Empire chapter for the forthcoming symposium and look forward to welcoming you to Toulouse in June 2019 to continue further the good work of the SFTE.

Jim Fawcett, Lead Flight Test Engineer, Airbus Development Flight Test Department, Toulouse, France

Jim Fawcett is a British-born Lead Flight Test Engineer (LFTE) working for Airbus and based in Toulouse, France.

Jim has nearly 25 years of experience in aerospace, having begun his career in 1994 as an engineering apprentice with British Aerospace in Filton, England. After obtaining a Masters degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics with European Studies from the University of Southampton in 1999, Jim initially specialised in Flight Test Instrumentation.

After training with the Airbus Flight Test School, Jim graduated from the French flight test academy EPNER in July 2008. Following postings in the acceptance flight test departments in Toulouse and Hamburg, he took up a role as a development LFTE specialising in communications and display systems. He is qualified to operate as a LFTE on all Airbus aircraft types and has logged nearly 2500 hours on test flights, including recently leading the successful certification flight test campaign of the A321LR.  A member of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Society of Flight Test Engineers and a Chartered Engineer, Jim also holds a private pilot’s licence.

Married with three children, Jim has dual British-French nationality. In rare moments of spare time, he enjoys road cycling and mountain trekking.

C:\Users\fawcett_j\Documents\Data\Work files\EVT\ACF\Photos\AC-1052-15-briefing-and-pilots-before-flight\AC-1052-15-briefing-and-pilots-before-flight\HighResol\briefing-and-pilots-before-flight-025.jpg

FTN asked Jim for advice on attaining and succeeding at the position he holds within AIRBUS. I think the most challenging part of being a Lead FTE for me has been the non-technical parts of the role, in particular interfacing with teams whose technical grasp is somewhat limited (finance, communications, even some program managers, etc.).

In terms of advice, I usually tell people to get out of their office and come and touch some real airplanes, to discuss with real flight crew, to understand what it’s really like to operate an aircraft instead of just saying “well, for my ATA chapter, part 25 says it must do (a), (b) and (c).” I think in our design processes we spend too much time ticking regulatory boxes first, instead of making planes that customers really want and then working out how to get around any certification difficulties that may generate.

Then of course, patience is a virtue. It’s hard when you’re straight out of college and desperate to do what you dream of, but all good things come to those who wait (and sometimes surprisingly quickly!). Sometimes pushing your management too hard to work your way up the tree can be misconstrued as overconfidence, which isn’t necessarily a great attribute for FTEs.

As for the future, as long as I’m happy, I don’t mind. I’ll be working hard to retain a technical, hands-on role rather than getting sucked into the management side. I probably have another 20-25 years of work ahead of me, health permitting, so I’ve got plenty of time to see what life brings.

This article first appeared in the September 2018 Flight Test News.

One thought on “Hindsight: 1971 – The 2nd SFTE Symposium

Comments are closed.

Copyright © 2018