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

(Credit: USAF Public Affairs)  The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School gave the test world 20 new experimental test pilots and flight test engineers Dec. 8.

The “Shockers” of Class 17A stood proudly before friends, families, base leadership and fellow testers in Hangar 1623 as they received their Master of Science Degree in Flight Test Engineering. As each graduate crossed the stage they received the graduate plaque from TPS, the diploma from Air University and the graduate coin.

The graduation is the culmination of an intense, 48-week program that included more than 2,500 hours of academics and approximately 120 hours of in-flight training; transforming top operational pilots, navigators and engineers into elite flight test professionals.

Students from the U.S. Navy, France and the Royal Australian Air Force were among the mostly Air Force class. For their master’s degrees, the students demonstrated learning by planning and executing test management projects. 

The guest speaker for the graduation, Thomas Morgenfeld, graduated from Empire Test Pilot School. His aviation career spanned more than 50 years. He flew more than 80 aircraft types, according to his introduction, including the F-117 Nighthawk, F-22 Raptor and the early prototype of the F-35.

“If you don’t remember anything else, remember never, never, never, never, ever, let your guard down,” said Morgenfeld. “New airplanes and new systems will be just waiting to jump on you. There’s just things you don’t know so keep your guard up at all times. There’s no such thing as an easy-peasy flight.”  

“Things these days have become so complex that you really do need a team effort to get through this stuff. It’s virtually impossible for one person to know everything about the airplane so build your teams, study hard and trust the teams. Developing a solid team in testing is the key to the whole thing.” 

Class 17A graduates join 3,000 alumni including more than 100 general officers and 60 astronauts. 

Test programs across the Air Force Test Center and beyond integrate TPS graduates into test teams to shape the technology and weapon systems of the future for the Air Force, sister services and allied nations.


Capt. Shane Bellingham; Capt. Philip Downing; Flight Lieutenant Adam Francki (Royal Australian Air Force); Maj. Michael Fritts; Capt. Benjamin Gilliland; Capt. Timothy Grace; Capt. Weston Hanoka; Capt. Alexander Hillman; Capt. Matthew Illowsky; Capt. Jacob Lambach; Lt. Gavin MacGarva (U.S. Navy); Eric Menant (France); Maj. Jacob Rohrback; Capt. Mark Shaker ;Capt. Thomas Stuart; Capt. Carl Tegtmeier; Capt. Jason Thomas; Capt. Michael Tibbs; Capt. Daniel Welch 

USAFTPS Class 17A Class Patch

The “class patch” is a rich source of aviation history, usually mixed with a bit of sarcasm and the character of each TPS class.  If I was a betting man, I would wager that leadership weighed in heavily on the design of this particular class patch, since it was such a high-visibility milestone in the the USAF TPS history.  I haven’t looked at the patch above upside-down or in a mirror, but sometimes a class is able to sneak messages and symbols into the design using this kind of subterfuge.  Do we have any USAF TPS grads from 1968? That class patch would make a great addition to the anthology project, a yearbook of sorts. It is something we are working on and planning to publish to commemorate our 50th anniversary.

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

Copyright © 2018