More than 800, 900, more than 1,000. Those were some of the estimates provided by delegates and presenters in the May 2 AAM special session of the number of eVTOL designs around the globe. While the precise number of evolving designs is not important, what is relevant to the discussion about the future eVTOL pilot and maintainer workforce is the magnitude of positions needed to be filled to permit community aircraft to enter commercial service, and training strategies for these prospective professionals. Insights on this and other challenges facing the eVTOL-S&T industry team are provided in this session recap. 

Murat Kose, CEO at Quantum 3D, shared insights with session attendees from the perspective of his company having four major projects in this market: 

  • a pilot trainer for a major, unspecified OEM has a five-projector dome system with a Quantum3D image generator. Customized software is being developed by the customer. The software’s attributes are noteworthy and speak volumes to the rigor of the eVTOL operating environment, as the product will provide high-resolution, 3-D city vertiports and airports and terrain modeling;   
  • Q3D is developing a marketing demonstrator for the Limosa LimoConnect, whose airframe will embark one pilot and seven passengers. The project, further enabled by Varjo XR-3 HMDs is reported to be “working well;” 
  • a project with Advanced Rotorcraft Technology has a Brunner-supplied motion base and uses ARTs advanced rotorcraft physics modelling experience and Q3D’s MANTIS (IG software); and
  • a NASA R&D project.   

The Q3D leader provided some early technology lessons learned from his company’s eVTOL projects. At the top of the community subject matter expert’s list was the importance of the HMD display having a high frame rate (90 frames per second or better); rigorous visual system attributes (high resolution, anti-aliasing; sustained frame rate (60 Hz or 90 Hz) to best enable training; support of the customer’s software; and others.

 

Workforce Issues

“The workforce must evolve,” declared Dr. Samantha Emerson, Research Scientist at Aptima. To point she noted a series of forces are shaping the embryonic eVTOL pilot and maintainer communities. The diversity of eVTOLs will compel pilots and maintenance personnel to have broad, general skills, allowing them to move from model to model. Calling attention to the early lessons learned from the electric vehicle industry, she suggested maintainers will need to have to key skills – in software and electronic engineering. “Automation is simplifying the job of flying eVTOL. Responsibilities will shift from the pilot to aircraft software.” The veteran of having supported AFWERX projects and other programs further suggested the role of eVTOL pilot is being reduced, shifting from being very manual (flying the aircraft) to being more cognitive (allowing him or her to monitor more activities and such). And at this early stage, eVTOL OEMs are conceptually also reducing the maintainer’s role, where, for instance, in some cases the pilot will “refuel” (electrically recharge the aircraft.) At the end of the day, one syllabus will also not be enough for pilots and maintainers due to the variety of aircraft and other factors – adding to the necessity for competency models. Much as WATS2024 delegates heard in other tracks, data also figures big in eVTOL learning. In this case, Emerson pointed to AFRL’s efforts to extract data to better track their student’s performance. What about that supply and demand mismatch of pilots and maintainers I cited early on. On cue, the Aptima scientist offered that prospective eVTOL workforce members should have more generalized skills with interests in videogames and other technologies. And it is time to cast a wider net on recruiting, with stakeholders being encouraged to educate and inform students as early as K-12 about the community. 

 

AI

And you most likely thought there would be a WATS 2024 session that did not mention AI – not so! Chase Schulze, Director of Engineering Services at Systems technology, Inc. highlighted the imperative to train next-generation eVTOL pilots with AI-based adaptive learning. The industry expert offered instances of where AI can be enlisted during the eVTOL pilot continuum of learning, with several cases included AI-recommended content tailored to the learner. In the STI representative’s model, there was the introduction of a director and evaluator (agents) to help scale and focus individualized learning for training audience members.  


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