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Boeing Frontiers
March 2004
Volume 02, Issue 10
Boeing Frontiers
Main Feature

From gliders to rotorcraft

Mark Metzger

They pass the test

The chief test pilot for Boeing Rotorcraft started his flying career in gliders. "When you learn to fly gliders, something has already gone 'wrong': You have no engine," said Mark Metzger. "So you are always thinking, where can I go? What are my options? What happens is more dependent on you than on the aircraft."

Those are the same kinds of questions that a test pilot needs ready answers for, especially if things are not going to plan, Metzger stressed. "You have the rest of your life to get those answers right," he said wryly. "But that may not be very long."

The military draft made Metzger a member of the U.S. Army. A brief stint in the infantry had him longing to fly again, and he applied to flight school. That led to 22 years in the service, most as a test pilot, and he flew every scout and attack rotorcraft in the Army inventory, including UH-1 (Huey) C and M models, AH-1 Cobras, AH-64A Apaches, OH-13, OH-6 and OH-58 scout helicopters as well as Coast Guard helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and more.

Metzger now oversees all test pilots for rotorcraft built by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. The 11-year company veteran said he looks for the same qualities in those he hires that have helped him: "You have to be able to do exactly the same thing, exactly the same way, over and over."

Test pilots also have to be willing to risk their necks, though not in the way most people would associate with the job. "You must have a sense of professional invulnerability," Metzger explained. "We're the last quality-control stop. If things aren't right, you need enough self-confidence to say so, make it stick and not worry about the career consequences."

The greatest myth about his job, Metzger said, is the "lone wolf" image portrayed in books like "The Right Stuff." "There's an old Southern saying: 'When you see a turtle stuck on a fence post, you know it didn't get there on its own.' The same is true for the test pilot walking out to the aircraft for a first flight," he said. "There's a huge team that got you there and keeps you there."

—Marc Sklar


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