Feature Story

A Super Hornet's first flight

Boeing test pilot Steve

Boeing

Boeing test pilot Steve "Bull" Schmidt prepares to land the F/A-18 Super Hornet after completing the plane’s first flight after leaving the production line in St. Louis.

Boeing test pilot Steve “Bull” Schmidt is a calm, cool and collected man, traits that serve him well on the job.

Several times per month he flies fighter jets, just off the production line, to determine if the new planes can safely do what they were designed to before the military customer takes delivery.

“Flying the new airplane is the culmination of a lot of work that happens beforehand,” Schmidt said. “The engineers and mechanics on the floor are the ones who put it all together, so the high quality is really a reflection of their efforts and the team overall.”

Schmidt has flown more than 400 production first flights in his career, including the T-45, F-15 and F-18.

With the danger involved in operating a jet that’s flying for the first time, Schmidt acknowledges that it’s always in the back of his mind.

“We’ve been trained well to handle most every situation, so I’m confident of the procedures in place to get me back safely should a precarious event occur.”

Schmidt began flying the F-14 in 1984 for the U.S. Navy. He retired from the Navy after 20 years, which included completion of the Naval Test Pilot School and Naval Fighter Weapons School, or Top Gun.  Between the military and Boeing, Schmidt says he’s been flying continuously for 30 years, but still relishes his profession.

“The thrill of the airplane’s acceleration, going supersonic or pushing the aircraft to a point most others can’t go hasn’t gotten old,” he said. “I don’t believe it ever will.”

Watch the video to see Steve “Bull” Schmidt take an F/A-18 Super Hornet up for the plane’s first production flight.