Extreme weather is no issue when it comes to flight tests

Control Laws and Flight Test group

This Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based subteam of the Control Laws and Flight Test group are ready to travel the world whenever needed to ensure customer equipment works in all sorts of extreme conditions as intended.Click to enlarge

On a frigid -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees Celsius) day last month in snowy Fairbanks, Alaska, two Rockwell Collins figures dressed head to toe in bulky winter gear made their way across a tarmac for just “another day at the office.”

The two flight test engineers from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, found themselves in Alaska to perform ground tests for a customer’s aircraft to see how well the primary flight control system — which includes the column and wheel that the pilot moves manually to control the airplane — would perform during extremely low temperatures.

The engineers, Charles Njenga and Bruce Reynolds, are part of Rockwell Collins’ 15-member Control Laws and Flight Test group that boasts a combined 70 years of flight test experience on 69 types of aircraft while on routine assignments in 16 different countries.

“We’re sent pretty much anywhere and everywhere,” explains Bill Piche, Flight Control Systems leader for Rockwell Collins. “We work with our customers to test our equipment, ensuring quality and consistency, no matter the circumstance.”

An extremely adaptive group, team members are often required to travel across the world with little advance notice.

“Our group is very flexible. During a flight test, we may work 60- or 70-hour weeks, traveling far and wide to ensure that we’re there for what our customer needs,” said Reynolds.

While schedules can change frequently and rapidly, the team is always prepared to jump into action, much like they did during the week of Jan. 22, 2018. Over the course of the previous six months, the team had been supporting flight testing leading up to a cold weather testing scenario.

“We knew we were headed somewhere up north. Either a location in Canada or Alaska. The day before we were scheduled to leave, we got word that our destination was Fairbanks, Alaska,” said Njenga.

Charles Njenga, flight test engineer at Rockwell Collins

Charles Njenga, flight test engineer for Rockwell Collins, battles an Arctic blast during a recent ground test. The 15-member team often finds itself combating extreme conditions to ensure customer equipment works as intended. 

Fairbanks, located about 200 road miles from the Arctic Circle, boasts an average low during the month of January at a chilly -17 degrees Fahrenheit (-27 degrees Celsius).

“While we were conducting our testing, we encountered an issue in which our flight test instrumentation laptop became too cold, so we actually ended up running to a drugstore for a heating pad. It worked like a charm,” said Reynolds.

While this particular flight test was met with extreme cold, many other flight tests have been quite the opposite for this team.

“Nothing quite compares to the heat inside an airplane sitting on a tarmac in Texas in July,” said Piche. “That’s something you don’t easily forget.”

From rural China to France, South Korea, Turkey and Alaska, the team has had a wide array of experiences. And though the job can be challenging, this group wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“Our team has an expression that we like to say when things get hectic,” said Piche. “For us, a bad day on the airplane is still  better than a good day at the office.”


Story posted: February 20, 2018

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