Pushing the Envelope

While the term is more closely associated with their military counterparts, test pilots are equally as important in the world of commercial aviation. James Careless speaks to two aviators tasked with evaluating new and modified airliners.

Unlike many other carriers, United Airlines has a chief demonstration pilot. In this role, Joe Sobczak has been responsible for the 777- 300ER and 747-400 displays at past San Francisco Fleet Week Air Shows.

Think of test pilots and the mind conjures up Top Gunesque images of flying suit-clad military aircrew walking in slow motion before strapping into fast jets and pushing them to their limits in a cacophony of jet noise. But the role is required in all areas of aerospace – including commercial aviation – and the risks taken in evaluating both new and old airliners are just as real as those encountered flying the very latest fighters.

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