SAAF pilots training at the International Test Pilots School in Canada

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The International Test Pilots School (ITPS) in Canada is training three South African Air Force (SAAF) pilots and an engineer, who joined the first course of 2023.

The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Cooper from 2 Squadron (Gripen), Lieutenant Colonel Akhon Ngcobo from 28 Squadron (C-130BZ Hercules captain) and Major Jonathan Sterling from 87 Helicopter Flying School in Bloemfontein. The engineer is  Major L Mathebula.

They are part of an intake that includes pilots from Poland, the Netherlands and Turkey, with candidates from Airbus, Leonardo PZL-Swidnik, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF), Turkish Air Force, and Turkish Aerospace Industries. (ITPS graduates have taken Turkey’s Hurkus turboprop trainer and T-625 medium helicopter to first flight, development and certification and ITPS graduates have conducted the first taxi tests of Turkey’s Hurjet and TF-X prototypes.)

“We are delighted to have the SAAF back at ITPS, and to welcome new customer the RNLAF! They are joined by ITPS Assistant Flight Test Instructors, Vaughn Guigui and Guy Lynch who will be participating in the full course,” ITPS said in a statement at the beginning of the year.

The SA Air Force has previously made use of ITPS to train test pilots and has in the past sent about two members a year on course.

Originally established in the UK in 1986, the International Test Pilots School is now based in London, Ontario, and is one of only eight recognised schools of experimental flight testing worldwide. For more than 30 years, ITPS has been training test pilots and flight test engineers for air forces and the civil industry. The company also provides military flight training. Before ITPS moved to Canada in 2001, Canada did not have a school of flight testing, unlike most major aerospace industry countries.

ITPS Canada is an EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) Approved Training Organisation for test pilots and flight test engineers, offering courses ranging from one year Graduate course, EASA CAT-1 and CAT-2 courses, short courses and online courses. The school is also a Designated Learning Institution offering a Master of Science in Flight Test Engineering. Students from around the world are trained using various fighter and trainer jets, light aircraft, helicopters and flight simulators, including L-29, L-39 and Hunter jets.

The SAAF has very few test pilots, although it does draw on test pilots working for Incomar and the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA) based in Oudtshoorn. Former Incomar CEO Johannes Joubert, for example, completed the Experimental Test Pilots Course at ITPS in the 1990s and did test pilot work for the SAAF and later for various customers like Ahrlac at Incomar. Another ITPS alumnus is former SAAF pilot Jannie Scott, who was an instructor at ITPS for two years before heading the TFASA’s Test Pilot School between 2018 and 2022 – he is now CEO of Ascenso Flight Test in Mossel Bay.