Converging Paths Military virtual maintenance training systems provide high fidelity, quality training across learning curricula. S&T companies are devising strategies to tailor their simulators and other devices to further support maintainers in the civil aviation sector, Group Editor Marty Kauchak reports.

Recent advancements in learning technologies used by military aviation learning audiences in their services’ classrooms have caught the attention of the Halldale Media editorial team.

Prospective manned and unmanned aircraft maintainers across the US and other nations’ militaries increasingly rely on the latest innovations in simulators, and other training devices and systems, to learn and enhance their complex skill sets.

As simulation and training industry members deliver ever more capable systems for military aviation learners, they are also eyeing the further expansion of their products into the adjacent civil aviation sector.

Community Survey Learning technology is a foundation for training military maintainers around the globe and across many air platform programs.

One insight of a fielded product can be gleaned from Boeing’s Virtual Maintenance Training (VMT) System. The system, in service with the US Navy, and in Australia, Japan and other nations for F-18E/F, EA-18G, CH-47, and AH-64 Apache weapons platforms, consists of Interactive Display Systems (IDS), Instructor Control (IC) and Interactive Courseware (ICW).

Yoshi Tanaka, a senior manager at Boeing Virtual Maintenance Training, further pointed out some of his system’s capabilities which help deliver and enhance learning. At the top of the Mesa, Arizona community expert’s list were 3D interactive graphics, aircraft system simulations, and aural cues to allow for instructor-led and self-paced scenarios for students to learn theory and practical training in either a lab or classroom environment.

“In addition, detailed tasks and procedures referenced from OEM [Original Equipment Manufacturer] technical manuals can be conducted to give the student(s) a realistic aircraft experience without having the real aircraft. Scalability and networking of these systems allow the student to learn individually or in a ‘real life’ team environment,” he added.

Denice Guimond, senior manager for Maintenance Training Business Development at CAE, provided a broader perspective on the state-of-the-art in this technology space when she highlighted the devices comprising a Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) military training system, and their capabilities.

CAE recently designed and delivered 10 classrooms of C-130J CAE Simfinity Virtual Maintenance Trainers (VMTs), in total, more than 100 workstations, for the service. “These VMTs are fully interactive with the aircraft courseware and compatible with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Integrated Learning Environment. Moreover, some of these VMTs are coupled with hardware-based part-task trainers (PTTs), which allow trainees to familiarize themselves with various aircraft systems and diagnostics, and then perform hands-on diagnostics and testing on the PTTs,” the industry veteran said, and emphasized, “With this blended approach to virtual and hands-on maintenance training, hundreds of maintenance tasks can be trained on the comprehensive C-130J maintenance training system.”

DiSTI continues to build upon its heritage of delivering the first, fully interactive 3D virtual maintenance trainer (simulated aircraft maintenance trainer) to the US Navy in 2005. The Orlando-based company’s virtual maintenance training environments are used by the US Army, Navy and Air Force, and by militaries in Finland, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. DiSTI’s maintenance training devices range from component level trainers (for engines, gearboxes, transmissions, and other parts) up to platform level trainers for the integrated system-of-systems experience (for the F-35, F/A-18E, CH-47F and other platforms).

Below the simulator level, NGRAIN’s software and development tools portfolio is expanding among military-industry team members. The company’s Production Suite has been used to create over 150 virtual task trainers (VTTs), interactive electronic training manuals and other training solutions for aerospace and defense clients, including the US Air Force, RCAF, UK Ministry of Defence, Lockheed Martin, CAE, BAE Systems and many others.

Nadia Ballard, NGRAIN’s product marketing manager, also pointed out her company’s Constructor, a 3D software development kit (SDK), allows developers to create their own interactive 3D apps and software. “In the military, Constructor is used to develop 3D software-based technologies for support of the design, assembly and maintenance functions. The Constructor SDK was used to develop the industry’s first Virtual Damage Assessment and Repair Tracking system to be used by aircraft maintainers to record damage and repair information for the F-35 and F22 aircraft,” she added.

Tailoring Technology to Civil Sector Applications With the proliferation of Sharable Content Object Reference Model-conformant courseware and other strategies to bolster instruction throughout the public and private learning sectors, it is ever more resource effective, in terms of cost and time, to tailor and customize S&T products for use in adjacent sectors.

Scott Ariotti, DiSTI’s director of Sales & Marketing, and NGRAIN’s Ballard emphasized the feasibility of using the core learning technologies built for the military aviation student in civil aviation classrooms.

Ariotti said learning technology in the military community “is ideal for the civil aviation maintenance sector,” and added, “It has already proven itself useful in other commercial market segments including maintenance on underwater submersibles, power generation equipment, and commercial automobiles. None of the technology is specific to the military sector. In fact, most of the graphics techniques used to develop this technology stem from the video game industry.”

Ballard observed there is no significant activity required to tailor a solution to the civil aviation market. She continued, “Our products are tools intended for the development of interactive 3D content for training and other performance support applications across a wide range of industries, and we incorporate support for sharable content objects using SCORM, supported by a wide variety of learning management systems that are used in both commercial and defense applications.”

Ariotti also dismissed some perceived obstacles to the civil sector using his company’s products developed for military learners, in particular, the accessibility of these materials. The Orlando-based subject matter expert said “Most new computers come standard equipped with built-in, 3D graphics processors capable of drawing the virtual environments and an interactive update rate. However, computers purchased just a few years ago may not have the right 3D graphics hardware unless the buyer specifically added it.” This makes it tricky to justify adding virtualized content to the classroom if the computers are not up to the challenge of running the applications.

The community veteran further noted these problems will self-correct very shortly as schoolhouses refresh their technology – not only with new desktops or laptops but with tablets as well. “For instance, DiSTI’s Virtual Engine Shop is the first app of its kind on App Store. Currently built for the iPad, users perform complete teardown and build ups of engines on a device they can take with them. At the end of the day, training should be something you do, not a place to go,” he said.

It should come as no surprise then, that Boeing’s Tanaka said his company “is aligning our Virtual Maintenance Trainer technology and solutions for application to both the commercial aircraft and military sectors.”

For its part, CAE has a comprehensive suite of maintenance training products and services readily available to defense and government organizations, and civil aviation maintenance schoolhouses. “We leverage our portfolio of simulation-based maintenance training solutions across the military and civil sectors, and customize the solution based on the needs of the customer and the training tasks that need to be accomplished. We also use common instructor support tools (Virtual Instructor Toolkit, Instructor Operator Station, Training Centre Operations Manual) across most of our training solutions, civil or military,” Guimond pointed out.

CAE has a broader vision for promoting technology to enable learning for maintainers in the military and civil sectors. Of particular interest CAE promotes, through direct participation in regulatory committees and working groups, a convergence of standards (between military and civil) for technicians’ qualifications. “CAE believes that regulatory authorities should recognize virtual maintenance training devices as an effective means of demonstrating hands-on proficiencies,” Guimond said.

What’s New or on the Horizon? As this article was submitted for publication DiSTI expanded its international military portfolio with a contract award by an unspecified international to build a virtual maintenance trainer for the F-16C Block 52 aircraft.

NGRAIN recently announced the release of its Augmented Reality and Mobile modules – complete with downloadable apps available on iTunes AppStore — to extend the virtual training and support efforts onto the field.

Ballard explained her company’s Augmented Reality lets you see your interactive 3D models as mobile augmented reality experiences. “Designed with the enterprise-level clients in mind, NGRAIN’s Augmented Reality offers an effective way to provide on-the-job support, so staff can perform maintenance, repair, inspection, training and other tasks and procedures quickly and accurately,” she added.

NGRAIN’s Mobile Player app enables “the easy integration of 3D interactive training into mobile environments,” according to Ballard. She continued, “With the increased use of tablets in the cockpit and in the field, NGRAIN’s products allow users at the point of interest to gather previously inaccessible information about the system around them, improving decision-making, accuracy, records-keeping, safety and efficiency.”

CAE is also expanding the edge of the technology envelope with its latest system deliveries.

Guimond, recalled that for the RCAF’s C-130J maintenance training program, a thorough analysis of the training tasks required helped determine the appropriate mix of virtual training, and hands-on maintenance training. “The RCAF had a specific requirement that the design of the training solution needed to accomplish 100 percent of the training tasks through virtual and hands-on maintenance trainers, meaning there would be no training tasks accomplished on the actual aircraft,” she emphasized.

For the Airbus Military A400M, the Cockpit Maintenance Operation Simulator (CMOS) that CAE produced will be used to train “the most difficult maintenance tasks on this aircraft type,” according to Guimond.

Guimond also revealed some of the instructional strategies underpinning her products. In one instance CAE’s RCAF customer wanted a training package for a specialized maintenance task, but they wanted minimal instructor involvement. “As a solution, CAE designed a self-paced, game-based, interactive learning module for repair of airframe composite structures that incorporates virtual equipment, process animations, and a scoring scheme,” Guimond added.

Another recent CAE project involved the design of a generic avionics virtual maintenance trainer for initial technician training. Guimond reported that considering the desired training outcomes, and the assessment of the student population by her Human Factor Engineering group colleagues, CAE produced a flexible, validated VMT that addressed the four most demanding avionics systems in the curriculum, inclusive of procedures and virtual test equipment and tools.

“The use of actual aircraft portable maintenance aids for training, the sharing of learning content with electronic publications, and continuous enhancements to our Virtual Instructor Toolkit are some of our on-going development efforts to produce next-generation maintenance training solutions,” the industry subject matter expert concluded.