by Senior Airman Armando A. Schwier-Morales
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
3/12/2014 - KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Two Wolf Pack Airmen roared into the beginning of their dream job by being selected for the Air Force test pilot school.
Capt. Philip Jackson, 8th Operations Support Squadron combat training
chief, and Capt. Mark Vahle, 8th Operations Group standardization and
evaluation chief, were chosen to attend the Air Force test pilot school.
The school specifically trains pilots to monitor, manage and perform
flight tests on research, experimental or production-type aerospace
vehicles and weapons systems.
"Program graduates have profound strategic impact on future combat
capabilities, so selection is highly competitive," said Maj. Miles
Middleton, Air Force Personnel Center special assignments branch, in an
Air Force press release. "Graduates are future senior leaders who will
help shape our national security. Identifying the right people for this
opportunity was critical."
After a nine-month application process, the two Wolf Pack Airmen faced a
flying interview with a variety of aircraft they were not accustomed
to. Yet, neither of the pilots were deterred as both had set their
sights on TPS long ago.
For Vahle, the spark to become a test pilot was fueled during his college years.
"Attending test pilot school has been a dream of mine since college,"
said Vahle. "In college, I remember walking by portraits of the Mercury
and Apollo astronauts [many of whom are U.S. Air Force TPS graduates],
and thinking about the courage and skill the first test pilots and
astronauts must have had. At that point, I committed myself to work as
hard as I could to be part of the team that tests new aircraft and
systems, identifies limitations and determines solutions to problems."
And just like Vahle, Jackson took action to reach TPS during his college years.
"I always wanted to be a test pilot; ever since I was a freshman in
college," said Jackson. "I started with a general love for aviation and
it turned out that developmental testing was the most fulfilling to me."
Both Airmen have had similar paths as both fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon
and have operated in a variety of theaters including Iraq, Afghanistan
and now the Republic of Korea.
"To be in Korea as a third theater for me is something that I can bring
back to the development test world and say 'I have seen the needs of the
Air Force in action in multiple different theaters and hopefully we can
develop better combat systems suited for all these regions,'" said
While acceptance into the TPS does not guarantee a test pilot position,
both Airmen say they are ready and confident that they will face the
coming challenges at full throttle.