The discipline of Flight Test Engineering has existed since at least 1903, but when did engineers identify their work, distinguish their work from other disciplines, under terms that would mark it as Flight Test Engineering?

This may take the form of someone who first used the term flight test engineer or flight test engineering.

Google demonstrates a history of the terms:

Google ngram of terms related to flight test

Image credit

NATO describes the history of its flight test organization this way:

Soon after its founding in 1952, the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD) recognized the need for a comprehensive publication on flight test techniques and the associated instrumentation. Under the direction of the Flight Test Panel (now the Flight Vehicle Integration Panel) a Flight Test Manual was published in the years 1954 to 1956. This original Manual was prepared as four volumes: 1. Performance, 2. Stability and Control, 3. Instrumentation Catalog, and 4. Instrumentation Systems. As a result of the advances in the field of flight test instrumentation, the Flight Test Instrumentation Group was formed in 1968 to update Volumes 3 and 4 of the Flight Test Manual by publication of the Flight Test Instrumentation Series, AGARDograph 160. In its published volumes AGARDograph 160 has covered recent developments in flight test instrumentation.

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    $\begingroup$ What is the difference between a test pilot and a "flight test engineer" especially in the context of early aviation? $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking for countries where English is spoken? $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer probably very little, but self-identification as an engineering professional is part of the nuance of the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sure the Wright brothers would have identified themselves as such had the term been in use at that time. The actions they took (building a wind tunnel, multiple wing designs, glider trials, etc) would absolutely have qualified them as such. Even before that back during balloon flight by the Montgolfier brothers in 1782/1783 could qualify as basic test flight engineering. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ In small industries people can wear many hats and may not call themselves a particular specialty. Self identification of flight test engineer is partly from the expanding depth of specialization, but also expanding industry needs So largely you would be looking for the point where there are enough large players in the industry to invent the new title. A similar situation is prospector vs geological engineer , a specialization that played out in the old west without a hard fallover date, basically it relates to when universities and schools start teaching it as a specialty. $\endgroup$
    – crasic
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 1:23

1 Answer 1


The Michigan Alumnus written on Aug 13, 1938 refers to Clarence Johnson's experiences as a Flight Test Engineer. He graduated with a MS in 1933 so presumably became an engineer at that time. enter image description here

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ How on earth did you dig that up? $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnK Doesn't everyone read eighty year old alumni newsletters?) $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ Presumably is not an answer. And I have references with earlier answers. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkJonesJr. You can answer your own question. Put a better one up since you didn't like the only answer you got in two years. 1938 is the answer if you object to 'presumably' 1933. $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 17:22

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