"It was my most significant professional thrill to watch Fred Knox fly the aircraft away from the ground on flight 1," Yates said.
Unlike his wife Karen and two children watching the historic flight from the Boeing offices in nearby Wildewood, Yates had a front row seat - the cockpit of the Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron F-18 Hornet chase plane he was flying next to the Boeing Joint Strike Fighter concept demonstrator.
Yates, the head of the X-32 Joint Test Force, leads a cadre of military test pilots, representing the Air Force, Marine Corps and Royal Navy, who are breaking new ground in military test flying by being involved with the contractor's test pilots (Fred Knox and Dennis O'Donoghue) right from the beginning.
"The JSF Concept Demonstration Program is this country's first, multi-service, multi-national, multi-contractor, multi-site, competitive flight test program," Yates explained.
While involving the military "customer" early in the test program got its start with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program, the JSF program is greatly expanding the "envelope" of testing new aircraft - not an easy task, according to Yates' friend and Northrop Grumman's senior experimental test pilot here, Tom Cavanaugh.
"It's a new concept," Cavanaugh explained. "Getting [test pilots] in there early to do envelope expansion used to be strictly the realm of the contractor test pilot. In new programs, the test pilots, contractor and military, are on more of an egalitarian basis."
Part of the pay off for this cultural shift comes in less downtime for the contractor, according to Cavanaugh.
"It eliminates the need for the shutdown of contractor work while the military does its evaluation," he said.
For the military, the rewards of including military test pilots early can also be significant, according to Yates, who has already flown four of the X-32's 14 flights as of Monday.
"First and foremost, we represent the fleet user," Yates explained. "We're trained to identify aircraft characteristics and behavior that can adversely affect the user's ability to complete combat missions. Clearly, these aircraft are not combat capable in this phase, but we are constantly looking to identify deficiencies.
"Additionally, we represent the government," Yates continued. "The contractors are competing for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract ... a rather large one ... and it's prudent to have "customer" insight in the flight demonstration activity."
Involving military test pilots early in the testing may seem like quite a paradigm shift for those accustomed to past programs. Indeed, according to Cavanaugh, it works because of the high degree of engineering and testing prowess of those involved.
"Rowdy's a very competant guy," he said.
From the pilots' perspective, this early integration has been professionaly rewarding, said Yates. And, perhaps surprisingly, without opposition from the contractor's own test pilots.
"I can't imagine working with a more knowledgeable and professional test pilot than Fred Knox," Yates stated. "The success the program has enjoyed to date can be largely attributed to him - he, and the rest of the Boeing JSF team, have embraced the Integrated Test Team philosophy.
"I've been involved for four years," he added. "It's helped tremendously. Our engineers and pilots have spent hundreds of hours in design reviews, simulator evaluations, and test planning meetings. It's very gratifying to see our involvement in the test."
And that, according to Yates, could be the biggest success story involved in the JSF concept development testing - the cohesiveness of the joint test force itself.
"We've assembled pilots and engineers from all the services [who will ultimately operate the JSF] and the United Kingdom," said Yates. "We're breaking down some cultural barriers between our test centers in the way we test aircraft. My Air Force counterpart and I have worked extremely hard to overcome the cultural differences of our respective services - we're proud of our relationship and accomplishments."
Those cultural barriers have included some basic differences between how the Navy/Marine Corps Team and the Air Force conducts testing, said Yates.
"For example, NAVAIR uses engineers at [NAS Patuxent River] for engineering oversight," he explained. "The Air Force uses engineers at Edwards [Air Force Base].
"Another is that high-risk test at Edwards requires the commanding general's approval, and at Pax, it only requires the Strike squadron commander's approval.
"Neither is wrong or right, just two different ways," Yates concluded. "We've worked hard to break down those barriers and develop a joint test program that each test center can accept as a good way to conduct joint testing. We think we've laid a solid foundation for future joint programs."
Although, Yates freely admits there may not be another major fighter development program for a long, long time, if ever, given the projected scope of the JSF program.
"Yeah, I've thought about that," he said. "We Joint Test Force pilots know we are extremely fortunate to be where we are. I also realize the responsibility placed upon us. It's important for us to look for any characteristics that could adversely affect the long-term combat capability of the Joint Strike Fighter."
Supporting Yates' efforts are the two F/A-18 Hornet aircraft being provided by Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division's Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron.
"Capt. Weisbrook's maintenance and operations departments have worked extremely hard to make these aircraft available to the JSF program," said Yates. "The aircraft are being used for safety and photo chase of X-32 test missions, as well as for pilot proficiency."
Also representing the Sea Services on Yates' joint/combined X-32 test team are Marine Corps Maj. Jeff Karnes and Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr Paul Stone. Karnes and Stone will be involved with testing the X-32B, the Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing variant.
Testing of the X-32 is scheduled to move here in the Spring of 2001.