WATS Pilot Conference Session 6: Technology Enablers

Delegates attending this session heard early results of the commercial aviation pilot training enterprise’s expanding uses of VR and immersive devices.

Shane Carroll, Head of Training Software COC at Airbus, provided a valuable, “101-level” for colleagues, in particular, those new to the WATS pilot conference. Carroll first differentiated between VR and capabilities in adjacent technology domains, including AR and VR, and emphasized that VR, while an evolving technology, supports visual, audio, reading/writing and kinesthetic (VARK) learning styles. “Remember that VR can allow you to practice procedures repeatedly and gain immediate feedback,” he added. 

For its part, Airbus is using a virtual reality project, to be released later this year, that supports pilot SOP training, uses scripted scenarios and involves no simulator. As a “teaser,” Carroll significantly noted the project has gained DGAC (Direction générale de l'aviation civile, the French Civil Aviation Authority) approval. This is an incremental step forward for the regulatory community’s embrace of emerging VR technology. While the OEM’s project is based on the A320 today, it will migrate to the A330 and A350 platforms, and in another major effort to expand the technology envelope will be Cloud distributed. 

Upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) remains a huge area of operational and training focus for the pilot training community. Captain Randall Brooks, Vice President for Training and Business Development at Aviation Performance Solutions, added another tool to the learning inventory when he discussed “Empowering VR through UPRT.” Brooks asserted the community continues to make great strides in preparing pilots to safely fly in the “normal envelope,” but “not so good out of the normal envelope. Pilots need every tool at their disposal.” 

Enter VR. After echoing an increasingly familiar benefits list to encourage further development of VR (providing a smaller training footprint and others), he further added, “VR allows you to step outside the aircraft and provides an immersive environment.” The corporate executive and aerobatic pilot noted VR-enabled instruction is “the polishing cloth, the cherry on top,” as APS provides instruction to conform with ICAO-specified instruction, consisting of academic, on-aircraft aerobatic, and advanced simulation training. 

The US Air Force’s Helicopter Training Next (HTN) program is an effort that builds upon the service’s successes in its Pilot Training Next (PTN). PTN seeks to embrace VR, AI and other new technologies to create shorter courses and increase pilot throughput for its fixed-wing aircraft communities. As significant, HTN seeks to graduate aspiring Air Force helicopter pilots from a helicopter-only syllabus. 

Currently, the service helicopter pilot training pipeline lasts about 17 months and includes flying the T-6 fixed wing aircraft for six months before transferring to helicopter training. One HTN program linchpin is the Immersive Training Device (ITD). The ITD leverages COTS technology such as VR headsets and PC HOTAS controls to develop a low-cost pilot training device integrated with the latest commercially available flight simulation environments. 

Dr. Julian Abich IV, Senior Human Factors Engineer, Quantum Improvements Consulting, pointed out the new ITD represents a helicopter cockpit regarding the seat, collective, cyclic, pedals, and virtual instrument and control displays. The industry subject matter expert explained his team is seeking to evaluate and understand how the characteristics of the ITD facilitate the acquisition or enhancement of knowledge, skills, and abilities – by way of collecting usability and user experience data from helicopter instructor pilots regarding interaction with prototype versions of the ITD. In a significant lesson learned, Abich said the current ITD prototype was perceived as an improvement over the existing trainer.

Rick Adams, CAT Editor was the session moderator.