Kudos to Michael Vercio, Executive Vice President for Simulation Systems at FlightSafety International (FSI) for using a healthy dose of science to lay the groundwork for his presentation Preparing Pilots for Upcoming Storm during Day 2 at UnrealFest 2023. The industry expert left no doubt that climate change is having its way across the globe, presenting the reality of more adverse weather during scheduled flights – and offering the imperative to prepare aircrews through their training continuum for the “new normal” flight environment. Of added significance is FSI’s efforts to add Epic Games (Unreal Engine) to its learning technology toolkit with the intent to add increasing fidelity to weather-based training scenarios and other events delivered on its flight simulator training devices.

The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based executive pointed out that as part of the holistic approach to human and pilot safety, it’s necessary to look at the entire training enterprise and specifically, the flight training ecosystem and its flight simulation training devices. “It all comes down to simulation, getting objective data off the device that you are training on to show you are meeting the needs of the pilot.” Vercio’s second imperative for holistic training was infusing virtual realism into the training platforms – and with good reasons. 

Global Climate Effects on Safety Parameters

The community expert presented data-based outcomes from NASA and other sources to validate an uptick in adverse weather activity in and beyond the US, including: changes in jet streams’ patterns and accompanying wind shear – resulting in more instances of “clear” and other types of turbulence; increases in temperatures; more thunderstorms and others. “These and other changes are changing some of the safety parameters, how pilots fly and certainly how we train them.” At the end of the day, higher-fidelity visual systems contribute to more efficiently completing these and other training events.    

The pace of climate change and its impact on commercial training enterprises further encouraged FSI to partner with the University of Oklahoma. Vercio pointed out the university has a National Weather Center that completes some of the leading US studies on climate change. “When we’re teaching pilot training, understand who our client is, where they are flying, what those environments will be, and making sure we have the latest technologies to make them proficient in what they are going to see, is really key,” he added. 

FSI integrates the safety risks presented by adverse weather to its six standing, industry tracked risk categories: runway excursions; controlled flight into terrain; ground collision; turbulence; hard landing; loss of control in flight. “We look at this tracked data. This is where our organization on the engineering side comes in and asks, what can we build. New devices, perhaps, to improve our simulation, to improve pilot awareness and cognitive skills and begin simulating some of these new aspects. We take some of the risks we’re seeing in the data to test in the simulator, and not have to worry about doing it in flight.” 

CUF2023 FSI side by side.jpg

The above "side-by-side," illustrates the business case for FSI pursuing increased fidelity (on the right of screen) in its visual display systems for training. Source: FSI

Enter Unreal Engine

FSI looked at focus training on its six risk categories and the impacts of climate change, and took on UE and other learning technologies to develop technology prototypes. The strategy will allow the pilot to say, “I am looking for these tell-tale signs within a certain environmental dynamic. What can I look for, what can I simulate to tell me am I either getting into trouble or at risk from getting into trouble.” 

To help improve this virtual training domain, FSI is revving up its legacy-era Vital visual system by powering it with Unreal Engine. FSI’s fielding strategy for the new UE-enabled capabilities will include integrating them in FFSs provided by the parent company down to the flight training devices delivered by FSI subsidiary Frasca – currently equipped with TruVision Global. One of many current training gaps expected to be enhanced by the enhanced visual systems will allow pilots to more effectively identify and deal with ice layers, in particular during their pre-flight walkaround – for starters. Indeed, some of the “current technology” renderings presented in side-by-side “enhanced technology” screen captures approached night-and-day differences.