As OEMs announce public financing agreements and advance the testing and evaluation of their initial airframes, there is a frenetic pace of activities in other corners of the eVTOL enterprise. While advanced air mobility infrastructure plans unfold and eVTOL airframe suppliers raise the performance bar on the rigor and safety of their propulsion and other subsystems, the makers and suppliers of eVTOLs are turning their attention to training the first generation of operators. This article highlights representative training developments in this sector in the past several months and previews some near-term anticipated developments.
A spoiler alert of sorts. Don’t expect to see eVTOL training organizations on the scale of enterprises supporting commercial fixed and rotary aircraft aircrews – yet.
One key insight on the early but quickly evolving eVTOL training enterprise was provided by Sam Swanson, Senior Manager, Public Relations at Archer, an OEM which is eyeing its entry into both the commercial and military eVTOL markets. Most significant, the Archer executive confirmed that establishing a pilot training program remains an early work in progress at this OEM. “Establishing a reliable pipeline of certified pilots is critical to the long-term sustainability of commercial operations. We are currently developing a pilot training program that is in compliance with FAA regulations and that will adequately develop the next generation of eVTOL pilots. We look forward to sharing more on this program in the coming months.”
Swanson was asked whether the simulation and training industry needs “clean sheet” designs to support Archer and other OEM providers and their customers. The public affairs expert responded, “Archer is confident in our ability to meet the training and evaluation needs of our operators by utilizing existing system technologies. We work closely with our S&T suppliers to identify and acquire the equipment needed to maintain the safety and reliability of our operations.”
That Archer is working with a number of unspecified S&T industry members to help establish its enterprise is also noteworthy. Swanson emphasized that Archer engages regularly with its S&T suppliers to ensure that any and all equipment being purchased supports its overall goal of safe and reliable operations. “We will continue to work closely with our suppliers to equip our operators with the tools they need to effectively test and evaluate the performance of our eVTOL aircraft.”
Beyond Archer’s collaboration with yet-unnamed S&T companies, other partnerships are forming – providing the S&T industry with nothing less than major emergent opportunities to deliver content and services to eVTOL OEMs and their rapidly expanding list of customers.
In one case, CAE announced it had partnered with Joby Aviation, a company developing all-electric aircraft for commercial passenger service, to develop and qualify flight simulation training devices that will be used to train the future pilots of Joby’s revolutionary aircraft. CAE, the company noted, “will work with Joby to develop pilot training devices specifically for the company’s electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.”
CAT reached out to the partners to gain an update on their progress. Katie Pribyl, Joby Aviation Public Relations, responded, “In March, we were pleased to announce our partnership with CAE to develop and qualify flight simulation devices that will be used to train the cadre of future pilots that will fly Joby's aircraft. That work is progressing well.”
Also in March, it was announced NetJets and FlightSafety International signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Lilium, makers of an all-electric vertical take-off and landing jet, for a proposed strategic partnership. The announcement noted in part, “Lilium would also partner with FlightSafety International Inc. to provide products and services, such as courseware, industry leading immersive and mixed-reality training devices and crew training to support Lilium Jet operations. FlightSafety’s proprietary training software will deliver flexible and agile learning solutions needed to support the advance air mobility market.” The partnership was unable to provide an update on their activities.
Glimpses of Content Development
Beyond early partnerships, S&T suppliers are introducing an interesting mix of content to this emerging sector.
In one instance, this July, CAE announced the launch of the CAE 700MXR flight simulator. The corporate press release noted, “Initially targeted to the eVTOL market, the CAE 700MXR will revolutionize flight training for complex urban settings with a compact mini-motion platform and 360° field-of-view visuals that deliver high-fidelity, physics-based simulation tailored to single-pilot operations,” and continued, “CAE’s next-generation immersive synthetic out-the-window environment combined with a mixed-reality head-mounted display and real cockpit controls and instrumentation will enable pilots to take advantage of enhanced 3D perception and AI-based digital capabilities to fully engage in realistic, low-level flying scenarios.”
Elsewhere in the S&T industry, Immersive Display Solutions Inc. is brandishing similar credentials to other early content and service providers – in its case, IDSI is a leading provider of visual displays for rotary-wing aircraft of all sizes and shapes. George Forbes, CEO at the company, explained that IDSI is an OEM supplier to the largest names in the simulation industry. “Several years ago IDSI identified the eVTOL market as an emerging opportunity within our current customer base as well as with new customers. Starting well before the Air Force [AFWERX] Agility Prime program came into being, we were engaged with a leading eVTOL developer and we have been fortunate to provide solutions to the companies who have emerged as leaders in the market. To date IDSI has delivered systems to two Agility-funded companies including mobile trailer-based systems and fixed installation for software-integration labs and demonstrations centers.”
The executive provided one vital datum point on the eVTOL sector’s early demand signals for visual display content. While IDSI has a range of solutions available to its eVTOL customers, “Our customers have found our transportable solutions have been popular for marketing applications. Some customers require a small form factor, so we use our compact VisionStation3 display. Other customers focus on larger size while still being able to collapse down for ease of transport, so we deploy reverse pressure screen technology. Lastly, for the fixed installation customers we offer our hard-shell domes.”
IDSI further believes the eVTOL market is bifurcated between traditional US DoD requirements for simulation training and displays used for marketing. Forbes first explained the marketing, for example, tends to be more price conscious and thus the customers are willing to compromise on display contrast and resolution. He continued, “The screens we deploy are similar to the high-end but the projectors are more ‘value oriented.’ Similarly, the image generators used tend to be commercial game engine-centric and thus more price competitive than the simulation and training solutions.”
IDSI is understandably excited about the growth that it sees within the DoD and commercial eVTOL markets, as “eVTOLs will require tens of thousands of new pilots and we believe that a portion of those will be trained using traditional simulators such as we provide.”
While the company acknowledges that XR headset (both AR and VR) will play a role in training, “we don’t see these replacing direct-view simulators completely. IDSI is working on internal projects to merge the game engine technologies with our direct-view large-format display products. Regarding fixed-wing, many of the same dynamics apply. We see game engine technology continuing to make inroads and this is expanding the market for our visual systems.”
IDSI’s near-term product roadmap includes its commitment to making traditional direct-view simulators easier to operate and easier to maintain. The company’s CEO concluded, “To that end we have developed an application that is dedicated to shielding the user from the complex system-level nuances that have made simulator visual display challenging in the past. Moreover, our application greatly simplifies the content management. Our goal is to make the simulator as easy to use as giant immersive TV and our application is the TV tuner.”
The Cusp of Sector Expansion
The eVTOL training enterprise is in its formative stages, with partnerships emerging among OEMs, their customers and S&T companies. Plans are underway to transition operator training from the test-and-evaluation phase, as new airframes are certified, to sustained commercial operation. To meet this training pivot, S&T companies, many familiar to the legacy commercial aviation industry, are offering current and newly designed training systems and devices to support the eVTOL training enterprise.
CAE's new 700MXR flight simulator is initially targeted to the eVTOL market. Image credit: CAE.