Aerospace Engineering & Test Establishment (AETE)


For over 80 years, Flight Test and Evaluation organizations, presently all consolidated in Cold Lake as the Aerospace Engineering & Test Establishment (AETE), have made outstanding contributions to Canada's aviation development by providing world class flight test and experimental services.

- Belt of Orion Award, 2005

Flight test and evaluation in Canada began in the years following World War I when Parliament created the Air Board to regulate air navigation. An aerodrome was opened at Rockcliffe, near Ottawa, in 1920. Major activities for the next two decades were aeronautical experimentation and aerial photography for the mapping of Canada using surplus war planes. Tests were carried out of oil dilution systems for easier winter starting of engines, fog landing equipment, fire-resistant asbestos suits and parachutes.

In 1923 the Department of National Defence was formed, and the following year Canada’s military air service became the Royal Canadian Air Force.

When war broke out in 1939, a small but sophisticated Test Flight operation was already in place. It carried out investigations pertaining to flight testing, electronics, gunnery, navigation, and any aeronautical work that affected training. The war effort caused a great increase in the demand for experimental test flying and the Test Flight was reorganized into the RCAF Test and Development Establishment in 1940. Rockets, bomb sites and radar were now on the evaluation list. Every type of aircraft proposed for the RCAF was thoroughly tested prior to its acceptance. At war’s end in 1945, the jet age was introduced with the demonstration of a Gloster Meteor at Rockcliffe.

In 1951 all experimental units were consolidated as the Central Experimental and Proving Establishment (CEPE) with headquarters remaining at Rockcliffe. Fears during the early Cold War years produced new Canadian defence requirements, including an early warning radar system which would alert North America to aerial attack by Soviet forces from the direction of the polar regions.

A winter experimental unit was based at Namao, Alberta and in 1954 an Air Armament Evaluation Detachment was formed at Cold Lake, Alberta, where construction had begun on the Primrose Lake Evaluation Range. Military photo survey work continued until 1957, resulting in modern and accurate maps of Canada.

A new unit, VX10, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Air Test and Development Experimental Squadron, was formed at Shearwater, Nova Scotia in 1952. During its nearly eighteen years in existence, this comparatively small unit played a significant role in the development of Canadian Naval Aviation, especially in the field of Anti-Submarine Warfare.

The history of VX10 is really the story of the special projects carried out by the Squadron. Many of them stretched the capabilities of the Squadron’s personnel and resources to the utmost, such as the complex and hazardous Carrier Suitability Trials aboard the aircraft carriers HMCS Magnificent and Bonaventure, and the PB-20 Automatic Flight Control System Trials which were a precursor to today’s automated flight control and landing systems. These had a profound and lasting effect on Anti-Submarine Warfare, not only in Canadian Naval Aviation but in the Navies of other countries such as the United States, Britain, Japan and Australia.

In 1966 VX10 reconfigured the de Havilland-built ‘Tracker’ with its new Anti-Submarine Tactical Navigation System, doppler radar, and analogue computer. The successful use of this equipment in the first-ever continuous tracking of a Russian nuclear attack submarine greatly improved the submarine detection and localization capabilities of naval patrol aircraft.

When the Canadian Navy was considering the use of the anti-submarine Sikorsky Sea King helicopter aboard its frigate and destroyer size warships, VX10 responded to the need to develop a system which could rapidly secure the helicopter on deck. This resulted in the Helicopter Haul Down and Rapid Securing System, also known as ‘Beartrap’, which was perhaps their most ambitious and successful project. It provided new operational capabilities that would rank with those of the Angled Deck and the Steam Catapult.

In 1957 CEPE was moved to RCAF Station Uplands, Ottawa, a move necessitated by the longer runways required for testing new jet aircraft. During its most active years, CEPE was a wide-ranging RCAF mini-command with connections to other testing detachments from Prestwick, Scotland to Yuma, Arizona, as well as those operated by commercial aviation manufacturing facilities across the country.

Major flight test operations were organized with the introduction into service of the F-86 Sabre, CF-100 Canuck, CF-104 Starfighter, CF-5 Freedom Fighter, CL-41 Tutor Trainer, and de Havilland Buffalo short take-off and landing aircraft. The Tutor was modified for its air demonstration role, first as the Golden Centennaires in 1967, then as the Snowbirds in 1974. The Argus Tactical Air Navigation system was upgraded for Maritime Air Command.

In 1967 the Air Armament Evaluation Detachment at Cold Lake became 448 Test Squadron. VX10 Squadron operated out of Shearwater until June 1970 when it was disbanded and merged with 448 Test Squadron and CEPE to form the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment. AETE was moved to its present location at Cold Lake in 1971.

AETE is part of the Canadian Flight Test Centre at 4 Wing Cold Lake, located 300 km north-east of Edmonton. The Primrose Lake Evaluation Range provides one of AETE’s greatest advantages: the large volume of airspace available for its flight test operations. The newly renovated hangar, one of the largest in the world, named the Jan Zurakowksi Building, provides floor space for offices, laboratories, and aircraft as large as the C-130 Hercules and the CP-140 Aurora.

AETE provides flight test services and expertise to the Canadian Forces and other government departments. It conducts flight and ground testing involving every aircraft type in the Canadian Forces inventory, and the evaluation of new systems to be installed on these aircraft. Its extensive infrastructure also supports civil flight testing.

Its aircraft fleet consists of the highly instrumented CF 188 Hornet and CH 146 Griffon helicopter, as well as the Tutor aircraft used for test support and pilot proficiency. Until April this year, AETE operated the last CT 133 Silver Stars in the Canadian Forces.

As the military increases its night operations, the need also increases for testing Night Vision Imagery Systems. Night Vision Goggles and aircraft lighting compatibility testing for night-time readability and visual acuity was performed on the Griffon helicopter and the Hornet. AETE has also conducted night vision testing for STARS Air Ambulance Service and a Hellenic Air Force C-130 Hercules.

Test specialists at AETE evaluate the electro-magnetic compatibility of all electrical items on aircraft and provide expertise in aerodynamics, avionics, software testing, static and dynamic structures analysis, and escape systems.

AETE’s unique developments in escape system testing have attracted international attention with the development of test platforms for ground and air ejection seats. The ground test vehicle, a modified Dodge Ram 3500, can be configured to carry any ejection seat currently in use. High speed film cameras affixed to the vehicle can be adapted for a number of customer data collection requirements at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. As well, a modified a CT 133 Silver Star has successfully conducted airborne ejection seat tests from 170 to 500 miles per hour. This aircraft was retired this year with the remainder of the CT 133’s.

AETE continues to lead the world in the field of flight test evaluation and development.

The Belt of Orion Award for Excellence was presented to the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment at ceremonies held in Edmonton in 2005.

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