Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment (AETE): An Effective and Sustainable Engineering Flight Test Capability

Article / December 20, 2018

The ability to test equipment and aircraft rigorously in all extremes is essential to ensuring the safety of Canada’s women and men in uniform. When acquiring new or modifying existing aerospace equipment, AETE uses a full spectrum of flight test capabilities and resources, including specialized ground support facilities and instrumented aircraft. These tests and evaluations are done by AETE’s test pilots, flight test engineers, system engineers, specialist engineers, and technologists.

The Engineering Flight Test Rationalization Initiative

AETE has been located at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, Alberta since 1971. The Cold Lake location was primarily selected because of the large evaluation range nearby and the favourable climate for flight testing. Since that time, engineering test and evaluation has evolved considerably. Only two of the nineteen Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircraft fleets are now routinely tested at Cold Lake and the evaluation range is rarely used. The majority of the engineering test and evaluation now occurs at RCAF main operating bases where the other 17 fleets are located, requiring frequent travel by AETE personnel. From a personnel perspective, AETE’s current model is not sustainable.

To ensure a sustainable engineering test and evaluation capability for the foreseeable future, the Engineering Flight Test Rationalization (EFTR) Initiative was launched. The EFTR Initiative evaluated the current organization to determine ways and means of modernizing and making engineering flight testing even more efficient and effective. This included an analysis of the current capability and future needs, consideration of outsourcing some of the existing capabilities, and the possibility of changing the location where testing is conducted.

Planning for the future of Canada’s fighter force

Concurrent to EFTR, the Department of National Defence/Canadian Armed Forces also needed to plan for interim and future fighter capabilities. From 2019 to 2021, 4 Wing Cold Lake is set to welcome Australian-purchased F/A-18s, which will require additional hangar space and resources from the Wing. In addition, as one of Canada’s two fighter bases, 4 Wing Cold Lake will require additional infrastructure – particularly hangars – to support the future fighter fleet.

Relocation of Engineering Flight Test

As a result of the EFTR Initiative, and to make best use of 4 Wing infrastructure as we transition to the future fighter, it was concluded that Cold Lake was no longer the optimal location from which Engineering Flight Test (EFT) services should be provided.

DND/CAF’s intent is to partner and co-locate with the National Research Council Flight Research Laboratory and the Transport Canada Aircraft Services Directorate at the Ottawa International Airport. These partnerships would create a federal centre of excellence for flight test science, engineering, instrumentation, and evaluation, allowing us to share expertise while significantly reducing annual operating costs. The National Capital Region would also offer access to a greater pool of aerospace human resources, hence ensuring the sustainability of this unique and essential capability.

Negotiations for the National Capital Region location are ongoing.

Who will move, and when?

As of December 2018, AETE employs 166 military personnel and 22 public servants. Should negotiations for a relocation of the EFT capability to the National Capital Region be successful, we anticipate that roughly one third of AETE personnel would relocate with Engineering Flight Test. The majority of the remaining personnel would be transferred to other vacant positions within Cold Lake. A move would not take place before summer 2021.

Date modified: