Testing times for pilot Steve

Chief fast jet test pilot Steve Formoso in front of a Eurofighter
Chief fast jet test pilot Steve Formoso in front of a Eurofighter

“It is truly gobsmacking to fly. On production test flights where we take the performance of the aircraft to the max, I still have those moments where I’m saying to myself, ‘I can’t believe I have this job…’

For Steve Formoso, chief test pilot based at BAE Systems’ Warton site, the job is more exciting than most.

Eurofighter plane in action

Eurofighter plane in action

For a large part of his role involves working with the Fylde coast-built Eurofighter Typhoon.

Steve was appointed chief test pilot at BAE Systems in 2015. His CV combines expert flying abilities, engineering knowledge, communication skills, a good contacts book and a dash of diplomacy.

“There are probably some myths about the job,” says Steve. “For example, the sort of stick-and-rudder flying that Yeager and his ilk had to do where they were fighting with the controls is not really where it is in 2016.

“Today the job is all about offering the right amount of knowledge at the right time into the programme.”

You have to be able to say there’s something not right

So what skills do you need?

Steve says: “Communication is key. As a test pilot you have to be able to say there’s something not right.

“When you operate the aircraft you find things that need changing and understand why they need changing. It’s a bit of an art form.”

Steve’s introduction to flying came when he was eight, when his mum and dad took him out for a day trip and, by chance, they decided to go for a glider trip near Oxford.

“I remember that day vividly,” he says. “And I still have an old Polaroid my dad took. I was hooked from that moment on.”

He joined the cadet force as soon as he was old enough and took a flying scholarship while at school. Then it was time for university.

“When I was considering my options I weighed up whether the university had an air squadron and somewhere I could hang glide,” he said.

He ended up at Swansea University and joined the RAF immediately after graduation in August 1990.

Then, during RAF training he volunteered for the Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Scheme and went to America to carry out his primary flying.

His career took place at Shepherd Air Force Base in Texas on T37s and T38s, amid young pilots from the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Turkey.

After graduating in 1992 he went on to fly Jaguars on operational duty with 54 Squadron.

That was the perfect preparation for a busy few years, which included operations in northern Iraq working out of Turkey.

In 2001 he got a call asking if he wanted to go to America to fly Strike Eagles with the US Air Force. He linked up with the 336th Fighter Squadron, the Rocketeers.

When that chapter ended, Steve returned to the UK as a staff officer and was asked to look at Typhoon operations as the aircraft was being readied to go into service.

His role as Flight Commander on the Typhoon Conversion Unit meant day-to-day flying on the aircraft, as well as working closely with pilots. It was also his first exposure to BAE Systems.

He was then offered a place at the Empire Test Pilot School and, after graduating, went back to RAF Coningsby, but this time as a test pilot with 17 Squadron.

“I came to test piloting relatively late but part of test piloting is the amount of experience you bring to the job.

“You can’t walk into it as your first job; it would be impossible and you’d have no credibility.”