Thomas Hennig is Technical Higher Government Councilor at the Defense Technical Service for Aircraft and Aviation Equipment of the German Armed Forces (WTD 61) in Manching. There he works as a flight test engineer.
The former soldier studied aerospace engineering at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich. He is a trained aircraft engineering officer and systems engineer for the Eurofighter weapon system . With his career training in the higher technical administration service, Thomas Hennig switched to the civil service of the Bundeswehr after his military service. In addition to his degree, he has been in the USA completed training as a flight test engineer.
Mr. Hennig, what are you doing as a flight test engineer at WTD Defense Technical Department 61?
As a flight test engineer in the field of combat aircraft, I am responsible for the planning, implementation and follow-up of flight tests on the Eurofighter Weapon System. My main workplace during the flight tests is telemetry. An experiment is monitored and directed there. Once a year I carry out tests outside the Manching location as a so-called "campaign". These are mostly found as weapon integration tests on special shooting ranges in Sweden, Scotland, Italy, South Africa or the USA instead of. Full commitment is required in order to bring the long-planned test project to a successful and, above all, safe completion in terms of time, personnel and material.
That sounds like a lot of responsibility.
Yes - that comes with a lot of responsibility. The essential aspects of the technical and logistical operation must be explained to the test crews. On the other hand, I explain the operational needs of the test flight crews to the technical area. But you can easily get into this area of tension if you strive daily to bring both sides into harmony with a view to the success of the project. In addition to technical training, personal leadership skills and the ability to work in a team of a test flight engineer are important prerequisites for day-to-day work.
How can you imagine a flight attempt?
The main focus is initially on preparing and planning the flight test. All aspects of the test, for example the technology, the logistics, the approval and the test flight crews have to be identified, planned and controlled. However, the preparation and planning phase does not end with the final drawing of the flight test program. A test safety audit process must also be passed successfully, as must the planned test by the director of the WTD61 are released.
During the implementation phase, I lead the test briefing before the actual test flight. I monitor the test flight itself and control it from the telemetry. Unfortunately, like my colleagues from the “Transporter” and "Helicopter" departments, I cannot occasionally fly with the test. In a fighter plane it is very cramped and there is only room for the actual crew. After the test flight, I lead the debriefing and collect all test data from the " Flight Test Instrumentation" for evaluation. I also prepare a final report with the flight test crews.
Tell us about your training in California.
Yes - with pleasure - I moved there with my family in the summer of 2018. In Mojave, I then have a one-year EASA apprenticeship European Aviation Safety Agency Category 1 certified flight test engineer at the "National Test Pilot School". The EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, is responsible for safety and environmental protection in European civil aviation.
During the training I learned how to plan flight tests, how to carry them out safely, how to evaluate the results and finally report on them. The training included not only theoretical lessons on flight performance testing, flight characteristics testing and modern flight control systems. A very extensive briefing in the testing of aircraft systems was also part of it. In the practical teaching units, you independently plan flight attempts in a team. In the plane you then do this yourself with a student test pilot, evaluate the results and report on them in writing and orally at the end. My highlightDuring the training there was an introduction to flight test techniques. Under the guidance of a test pilot, I was allowed to fly various and sometimes extremely dynamic flight test maneuvers myself.
What do you particularly like about your job and your environment?
In my opinion, there is no better engineering proffession that is even closer to the operational activities of the pilot than that of a flight test engineer. During the internships in my career training, I became fully aware of the operational world of the pilot for the first time. I was amazed by the sheer size and complexity of this "new world" for me. Thanks to my flying experience, I can now assess and evaluate the workload, the concentration distribution and the thinking patterns of the pilot much better depending on the flight phase.
My job demands a high level of teamwork and communication skills and offers no routine. Every test project has new and different challenges. And: In this job you should neither be shy nor a loner.