The International Test Pilots School (ITPS) is an internationally recognized school of flight testing. ITPS seeks to equip pilots and engineers with the knowledge and skills essential to test and evaluate complex, unfamiliar aircraft and systems to determine their suitability for their intended use. As members of the flight test community, we are used to trying to figure things out under tight time constraints and challenging situations. When COVID-19 hit and the interruption of instructional activities including flight training came to a sudden halt under the Ontario Province State of Emergency, we had to find a way to continue instruction while keeping our students and staff safe.
A rapid switch to online instruction was the obvious answer. The question was, what was possible and how effective would it be, considering the diverse subject matter taught at ITPS, to provide an optimal learning experience? How could we implement this within days, not weeks, as our cadre of international students were confined to their accommodations? True to their profession, our flight test engineering instructors proved up to the challenge. Within days, they launched into online lecture sessions across a variety of subjects. Much was learned on-the-job. Programs such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams allowed instructors to share presentations through a screen share feature. Microsoft Whiteboard gave instructors an electronic option to write and draw using pen tablets, providing an improved version of a physical whiteboard. A further challenge was determining how to engage the students and retain their attention, without the verbal and non-verbal clues available in the classroom environment. While flight testing is about setting up experiments to generate useful data for analysis, it was also necessary to develop practical demonstrations and data reduction tutorials, allowing students to share their screen, interactively showing their results.
Settling on Microsoft Teams, our engineers coupled X-Plane simulation-enabling demonstrations of performance test techniques on a variety of aircraft. Real-time visualization of selected parameters proved possible and data files were generated for analysis. The instructor operating station view allowed visualization of the flight path and the setting up of the environment, including wind direction and speed. Flight simulation was limited to low bandwidth flight test demonstrations. Using the Cirrus SR-22 model, one of the types in use at the school, the instructor set up the demonstration and test points. The students verified the set-up conditions, the stability of the test point, and recorded the data from the shared screen. An excel file with the data was produced and used for a post-flight data analysis tutorial.
In conclusion, the initiative proved successful. The response from students and instructors was overwhelmingly positive, leading ITPS to offer distance learning for select short courses and preparatory courses.
COVID-19 has created unprecedented times for many all over the world, nonetheless we at ITPS are grateful for the opportunity to grow a new chapter of ITPS. We also look forward to getting back into the test pilot’s seat! Visit http://www.itpscanada.com for more information.
Stay safe and flatten the curve.