WATS Pilot Conference Session 5: Technology Enablers

A major trend from WATS 2022 is the pilot community’s continued, but expanding, interest in learning technologies to support their continua of training.

This session illustrated a number of concurrent activities that are allowing this sector to explore and wisely invest in technologies and their applications that will be integrated into their programs of instruction. A short list of activities includes: disruptive technologies available for pilot community training; an increased presence of academics in the early phases of program and product development; small companies as a linchpin of advancing these technology bases; and fielding these advanced technologies with a deliberate, measured approach – taking on the order of four, five and even six years to go from “good idea” to a product prototype for test and evaluation.

Alexander Robinson, Director for Aviation and Defence, Training Solutions at Seeing Machines, presented on “Eye-Tracking in Practice: Concept to Operational Training Tool.” The presentation was developed with his customer counterpart, Dr. Patrizia Knabl-Schmitz, Human Factors Specialist at Emirates.

Data gleaned from eye-tracking projects supports human factors/HMI design, workload measurement, situational awareness studies and other outcomes. This industry-airline team launched its initial efforts in eye-tracking studies in 2016, advancing from a proof of concept in a lower-level flight training device through a follow-on study using Emirates’ A380 full-flight simulators. Study outcomes included the identification of distinct monitoring patterns which would have been previously invisible to instructors yet add significant value to the debriefing and retraining of crews. Results of the recent study number 3 in this multi-year project have been “overwhelmingly positive,” according to Robinson. The Australian corporate executive noted results are being used to focus on specific training scenarios instead of across a wider training event. As a next step, the research project’s outcomes are now encouraging the team to permanently retrofit and integrate eye-tracking capabilities in one of the their FFSs. The project’s way forward also includes placing pilot monitoring, training and performance in a feedback loop, and gaining buy-in of this learning enhancer from regulators, OEMs, airline training organizations and others.

On Tuesday at WATS, Epic Games released a 40-page information paper on flight simulation trends and best practices, a do-it-yourself tutorial, and free partner plug-ins that will enable developers to create a flight simulator using Unreal Engine (which is also free). The software development company also unveiled a demonstrator using the process on the WATS exhibit floor, along with industry teammates Varjo, Brunner, and Meta Immersive Synthetics.

Sébastien Lozé, UE Business Director, Simulation for Epic Games, said the info paper, DIY tutorial, and demo are outgrowths of the Antoinette Project. The UE Director added the project has been a four-year journey that focuses on “content pipe evolution,” driven by the reality that training is real time, data quantities are huge and the community must simplify the data. “This is a complex situation, with in one instance new tools including AI-enabled reconstruction of data, earth observation imagery and others, making imagery more true-to-life. Formats, protocols and open standards are also important.”

John Burwell, Global Head of Simulation at Finnish company Varjo, commented on the technology disruption he is observing from his industry position. The company’s head-mounted displays (HMDs) are providing customers with smaller training infrastructure footprints, decreased training device investments and other returns on investments. Further, Varjo’s HMDs are built to allow training in virtual and mixed reality-based courses. Burwell further noted the initial acceptance and accreditation of VR-enabled learning by a regulator – EASA for VRM Switzerland in this instance. Innovation and technology envelope expansion are also in Varjo’s sights, with the supplier looking to use cloud-based hosting of content to conceptually allow “the installation of 100 devices in a building with significant privacy,” as well as maturing its HMDs to provide for improved ergonomics and other enhancements.

Mario Ackermann, Sales and Marketing Manager at Brunner, noted his company’s flight training solutions and products portfolio is evolving to allow the customer to have a simulator that is “better, cheaper and have a smaller footprint,” synchronizing its vision with this set of industry partners, and making it more competitive in the broader S&T market – with a twist. The industry executive noted a special focal point is developing kinesthetic cues. Brunner’s business model includes the use of software agnostic products and COTS simulation content to the maximum extent feasible.

Military and commercial aviation veteran Captain Pierre Wannaz, now Senior Advisor at CEFA Aviation, provided the business case for applying EBT during line operations through flight data animation. The company is advancing this technology thrust in training applications for pilots using an A320 use case. Wannaz and his colleagues are further expanding the opportunities for using animation through the continuum of pilot training, in particular for self-briefing (focus on self-improvement, flight preparation and others) and crew-centered debriefs – raising the after-action review in this safety critical industry to a new level. CEFA’s expanding customer roster is being innovative in its use of animations. For example, ANA has more than 350,000 animations, supporting its campaign for stabilized approach improvements and other internal programs. Ryan Air is using these tools for FDM/FOQA events.

 Rick Adams, CAT Editor was the session moderator.