By Dr. Joetey Attariwala

For decades, traditional flight training has consisted of an instructor centric environment where the instructor is an all-knowing source of wisdom, and students are passive consumers of data. Traditional flight training also presents problems in the efficiency of pilot training, limitations in delivering increased efficacy where graduates are better than previous ones, and limitations on the scale of producing sufficient numbers of pilots that air forces require.

CAE is leading the way to change this paradigm by embracing modern learning methodologies and innovation to reorient pilot training towards adaptive, student centric learning.

“It's no longer just about the instructor,” said Phil Perey, Head of Technology, CAE Defense & Security. “Moving forward, the student will be in charge of their learning journey to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills – they will be active participants in their success. The instructor is a mentor and coach.”

The student centric approach is not meant to set students adrift without direction, rather it enables students to utilize self-directed study, interacting with peers in smaller group sessions, and to hone skill sets through experiential learning, which incorporates a variety of digital learning media including computer based training, immersive training, collaborative tools and access to training assets that can be used whenever and wherever the student wants to use it.

“It's all about creating a different type of learning environment,” Perey said. “You have to get up and do it to really have it sink in, so student centric learning is adaptive and is driven by how the student is succeeding or struggling in specific areas. This type of learning includes targeted ‘micro learning’, allowing a student to go off to review and remediate in areas of weakness and come back on track.”

The new student centric training methodologies that CAE is developing are, in many respects, drawn by the extent of data that the company is able to capture from students both from quantitative assessment tools like CAE’s Rise data-driven training system, and through the use of biometrics, which uses measurable physiological and behavioral characteristics of individuals. Biometrics such as eye gaze tracking, heart rate and respiration can provide valuable data to assess pilots during flight training, thereby improving safety and overall pilot performance.

One benefit of using biometrics for flight training is that it provides a more objective measurement of pilot performance. By analyzing eye movements, heart rate and respiration, trainers can gain insights into a pilot's level of stress, fatigue, and engagement during a training session. Data like this enables CAE to tailor their training to better suit individual students – making training more adaptable – and ensuring that students receive the right level of training and support.

Biometrics can also optimize pilot performance by providing real-time feedback. By tracking eye movements and heart rate, trainers can assess the effectiveness of their training techniques and adjust them accordingly. This helps student pilots adjust their behavior in real-time, resulting in more efficient and effective flight training.

“This is enabling advanced data analytics, gleaning more insights into the likely progression of individual students compared to a cadre of past students. This can provide an early warning signal to trigger remedial training to reduce the student washout rate,” said Perey.

In its efforts to modernize training methodologies, CAE recently conducted a study with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), with the goal of objectively verifying the training benefits of CAE synthetic coaching, feedback, and biometrics using a CAE Sprint VR training device. The January 2023 study exposed 30 pilot trainees to a 1-hour training event to practice takeoff or landing across 6 trials. CAE’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) coaching provided verbal cues for descent and touchdown speed and was coupled with auto-grading.

The study showed that the CAE-developed tools enabled the JASDF cadets to significantly improve their overall performance between the first and last trial.

“The JASDF study was a watershed moment demonstrating the validity of applying these new types of training capabilities,” said Perey. “Regardless of the level of experience and proficiency, and with just one hour of training on the device with an AI coach, students were able to significantly improve their performance.”

“Our objective at CAE is to better assess the student through their learning journey in a way that allows them to get earlier indications of success and do that in a way that is more engaging. This enables a shift to evidence based, or competency based training that assesses the extent the student has acquired specific competencies, and whether they have sufficiently assimilated them to be ready to move to the next step.”

The JASDF study is but one example of the transformational work that CAE is spearheading to modernize pilot training. The company also continues to work with academic partners like Southern Methodist University (SMU) to ensure scientific rigor of biometrics as indicators of student performance, with the goal of creating a future training ecosystem for the evolving needs of Air Forces in the future.