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All Posts, Aviation

Author Q&A – Chris Taylor

Since writing my book ‘Test Pilot’ I have been asked numerous questions about my test flying – I have listed just some of the questions I’ve been asked in recent days and the answers I’ve provided.

What can Top Gun Maverick teach us about being a Test Pilot? (Part Six)

Spoiler Alert: Pete Mitchell (aka Maverick) is now a ‘Test Pilot’.

For fun and light relief I thought I would apply my experience as a test pilot to see what lessons fellow aviators can glean from the movie. I know the Top Gun Movies are not real – my comments below are ‘tongue in cheek’.

Point 6: Safety Equipment – Consider what headgear to wear

Captain Pete Mitchell (Maverick) is now a qualified and experienced Experimental Test Pilot. We see him fly a Hypersonic jet wearing a ‘space suit’ with helmet. We see him flying an F18 wearing standard United States Navy Flying Clothing. Flying his P51 with Penny Benjamin he appears to be wearing industry standard David Clark headsets and on his motorbike he wears a pair of Ray Bans or similar while poor Penny Benjamin gets nothing.

What lessons can we learn?

In both the Hypersonic Experimental Jet and the F18 Maverick has to eject. It is not clear how he escapes a Hypersonic aircraft at Mach 10.8. In each case a helmet would seem to be essential attire. We all know Goose didn’t make it when he left the F14 in the first movie.

But how about the rest of us who don’t get issued a very expensive helmet by the government. They are very, very expensive to buy. So:

Should we wear a helmet?

It is true that many fatalities following aircraft crashes are put down to head injury of some sort. In some cases a helmet may have been helpful. If we are doing high risk flying where an accident might be more statistically likely then perhaps we should consider the cost acceptable. I wear a helmet when I’m flying open cockpit aircraft. I have a choice of two with one having a full face visor to protect my face from the airflow if there isn’t a suitable windscreen. I wear a helmet when flying Police or Air Ambulance helicopters and I wear a helmet when conducting flight testing – most of the time. I generally wear a helmet if I am wearing a parachute as egress from an out of control aircraft is likely to involve me bumping into bits of aeroplane – and ultimately the ground.

OK – so when do I not wear a helmet?

I fly some aircraft which have small cockpits or limited headroom which prevent the safe wearing of helmets. If I am flying with passengers or students who are nervous of flying I do not want to scare them more than they already are, so tend to avoid a helmet.

Hearing protection?

My hearing has been badly damaged over many years of flying a variety of aircraft including jets, helicopters, warbirds and gyrocopters – all of which have conspired to knacker my ears. I now have a choice of headsets and helmets fitted with Active Noise Reduction Technology – but here’s the thing. The ANR in my helmet does not work as well as my lightweight Bose in some situations. So for me, trying to protect what limited hearing I have left, I give the best noise attenuation priority over head protection for an accident that is unlikely to happen.

Maverick chooses to wear DC headsets in his P51. If you have read my book (Test Pilot by Chris Taylor) you will we aware that I flew in a P51 to conduct a check flight. The cockpit was very noisy and the intercom poor. After that flight I invested in the helicopter version of the DC ANR headset – It has deeper ear cups which incorporate more passive noise attenuating foam- why would you not want to protect your hearing as much as you can?

And what about riding a motorbike?

I have a licence but no longer ride a motorbike. I would love to ride like Maverick does in a lightweight jacket and sunglasses with a glamorous girl holding on to me BUT the reality is I would wear an expensive approved helmet with a full face visor and I’d wear leather/Kevlar protective clothing – but then on warm summer days I wouldn’t really have quite as much fun. I think Maverick could at least have offered Charlie and Penny a spare set of shades!!

Ultimately we all have choices – we can prioritise our head protection in case of an unlikely accident, we can prioritise hearing protection for noisy environments, or we can prioritise having fun as many of us fly for recreational purposes. The bottom line is, we should at least give the topic consideration and know why we have chosen our headgear. It shouldn’t just be peer-group pressure or budget constraints.


Test Pilot is available to order here.