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Piloting an experimental aircraft, from the ground up

Boeing test pilot Michael Sizoo yearned to be the chief pilot of a developmental aircraft. His dream is being realized while he stays firmly on the ground.

It begins with the well practiced safety processes, pre-flight test briefings, checks and then the flight itself feels like so many before: The aviator at the stick leans into turns, carefully watching the desert terrain in front of him through a heads-up display. But Boeing test pilot Michael Sizoo quickly straightens up in his seat. There are no g-forces working against him, just muscle memory.

Sizoo is the chief pilot of X-48C, a Boeing unmanned experimental test aircraft with a 21-foot wingspan, and while he is flying the airplane he is rooted firmly on the ground. The X-48C is an 8.5 percent scale model of a heavy-lift, subsonic vehicle that forgoes the conventional tube-and-wing airplane design for a triangular shape that effectively merges the vehicle's wing and body. The aircraft is configured with a pilot-in-the-loop system, which means Sizoo, a veteran test pilot, has a full set of controls. The set-up is similar to what he uses when conducting test flights on the C-17 Globemaster III military airlift aircraft.

For Sizoo, the video image from the nose of the aircraft coupled with the familiar controls help envision himself inside the X-48C, which possibly could be developed for military applications such as aerial refueling and cargo missions. He doesn’t set foot in it, but the X-48C is taking Sizoo to new heights, living out his dream of being the chief pilot of an “X” model aircraft.

In the video above, Sizoo describes his experience piloting an experimental aircraft that is flying miles away from his flight deck.