Training Aircraft: The Unique and Unusual

If you spend a day at the airport in Mojave, California, chances are good that you’ll see some special airplanes and helicopters rolling out from the National Test Pilot School, located adjacent to the control tower.

To provide a wide range of aircraft for its students while keeping the cost of aircraft acquisition reasonable, NTPS has acquired some equipment that would otherwise be taken out of service, such as former prototypes and retired military aircraft. There is an incredible range of aircraft types in the fleet. Some are new, modern and very familiar, such as the Cirrus SR22, while others were built decades ago. There are also a few rare specimens that can't be found anywhere else in the world. Here are a few examples of what you may see taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Check out our photo gallery in the following pages.

MBB Bo-105 – First flown in 1967 and built by Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm in Germany, the five-seat Bo-105 became a very successful light, twin-engine helicopter used both in military and civilian service, such as police, rescue and transport. With more than 1,300 built, the Bo-105 is no rarity. But its versatility and aerobatic capability makes it a fantastic training platform for the helicopter test pilot students at NTPS.

Aermacchi Bosbok – Designed in Italy during the late 1960s, the tailwheel, tandem two-seat AM3 Bosbok (Bush Buck) got its name from the South African Air Force where it was first put to use in 1972. The 320 horsepower, single-engine aircraft could carry two machine guns, two bombs and four smoke rockets under its high wings and was very effective at low-level attacks and short field operations, with a required landing distance of less than 1,000 feet. Nonetheless, fewer than 50 Bosboks were built.

Saab Draken – NTPS operates two Saab Drakens — a single-seat J-35 and a two-seat SK-35. A distinguishing feature is the double delta wing, which caused the Swedish designer Saab to name it Draken — the Swedish word for kite. The 80-degree angle on the inner portion of the wing enables supersonic, Mach 2 speeds and the 60-degree outer wing provides good low speed performance. Six hundred forty-four Drakens were produced between 1955 and 1974, and they were employed in the Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Austrian Air Force before being retired from military service in 2005. Very few Drakens are still in operation.

Hughes Cayuse – They say a dear child has many names, and the Hughes Cayuse is a fine example. The helicopter known to the general public as the Hughes 500 was developed as the Model 369 for an army contract competition in 1960. Initially called “Loach” for light-observation helicopter (LOH) and the “flying egg” because of its fuselage shape, Hughes finally settled on the name Cayuse. The American army placed an order for 1,300 OH-6A helicopters. To date, more than 4,700 OH-6As and its civilian Model 500s have operated on all continents in very diverse capacities.

de Havilland Dove – The Dove was the first aircraft used for test-pilot training at NTPS. It is powered by two 400 horsepower Gipsy Queen engines, each driving a three-bladed propeller. The Dove’s wing design brings its stall speed down to a remarkable 56 knots with flaps and gear down. The aircraft was designed in the mid ’40s as an 11-place short-haul airliner, and was used all over the world. Several variations were produced until the aircraft went out of production in the mid ’60s.

Sikorsky Chickasaw – The S-55 Chickasaw first took to the skies in 1949. It pioneered commercial helicopter transport and was the first true transport helicopter used in the United States Army. Its unique design features a cockpit mounted above the passenger cabin and two clamshell doors in the nose section. Though the S-55 was powered by either 600 or 700 horsepower engines, it barely broke 100 miles per hour, but it could carry 10 passengers and a crew of two. Nearly 1,300 Chickasaws were produced during 10 years of continuous production.

Aermacchi Impala – The Aermacchi MB-326 was designed in Italy and made its maiden flight in 1957. The single-engine jet aircraft was produced in both a tandem two-seat and a single-seat configuration, and became a popular military trainer and ground attack aircraft due to its excellent maneuverability and short field capabilities. Like the Bosbok, the Impala got its name in South Africa, while being produced by Atlas Aircraft Corporation. NTPS owns three of about 125 two-seat Impalas built there.

NDN Firecracker – Designed in late 1970s to simulate the handling of jet trainers, the Firecracker entered a competition to replace the BAC Jet Provost trainer for the Royal Air Force in the 1980s. Unfortunately for the Firecracker, the Embraer Short Tucano — a version designed by the British Short Brothers company — won the contract. Fewer than a dozen Firecrackers were ever produced, most of them with a 550 SHP Pratt &Whitney PT6A-25A engine, but there were also a couple of piston versions built. Most likely, the piston and turbo Firecrackers at NTPS are the only ones still flying.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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