Solidifying the eVTOL Pilot Training Enterprise Foundation

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Archer and Etihad's agreement of this May lays the groundwork for a partnership to recruit and train prospective pilots for Archer's Midnight aircraft (one above) in Abu Dhabi to fly aircraft across the UAE. Source: Archer 

Events are making 2024 the make-or-break year for many eVTOL OEMs. As eVTOL makers, their industry teams and current and prospective customers await approval from regulators on the first tranches of their piloted aircraft scheduled to enter revenue service, a number of poorly capitalized eVTOL manufacturers will fall by the wayside, regardless of the accolades their initial R&D airframes have earned for design, technology innovation and related attributes.

While these and related sector dynamics are beyond the mainstream focus of CAT and its complementary events, what has gained our attention is the quickening pace of concurrent activities shaping this new community’s training foundation. As eVTOL OEMs and their simulation and training industry partners expand the technology envelope on pilot training innovation, other developments are occurring, including the establishment of a pilot training program at an organization familiar to aircrews from the current generation of aircraft – for starters.

This article on eVTOL pilot training is another in a series of short pieces that provide an update on these and other disparate sector activities.

Learning Technologies for eVTOL Pilot Training

First, an attention-getter. A random, representative look at the art-of-the-possible in eVTOL pilot training is from a notional scenario provided by Quantum3D, depicting an operator “taking flight” in a Quantum 3D eVTOL simulator. This simulation provides a benchmark on what the S&T industry can supply the eVTOL community in terms of a training enabler.

The timing of offerings from Quantum3D and other S&T industry content and service providers for pilot training is exquisite – as OEMs are slowly turning from a laser focus on R&D aircraft projects to the reality of helping prepare initial cadres of pilots for eVTOL customers around the globe as the parties slowly creep toward envisioned, first commercial flight dates – typically in 2025/6.

To be resolved: how will the eVTOL community recruit and train its future pilot fleets -- when enthusiastic, prospective candidates (above) also feel the tug-and-pull to be pilots from military services and legacy commercial airlines? Source/credit: Purdue University/Air race Classic

As one valuable data point, Murat Kose, CEO at Quantum 3D, recently told WATS 2024 delegates and this author in a post-conference discussion, that his company has four major projects in this market: a pilot trainer for a major, unspecified OEM; a marketing demonstrator for the Limosa LimoConnect, whose airframe will embark one pilot and seven passengers; a project with Advanced Rotorcraft Technology; and a NASA R&D project.

What’s also significant about this emerging training enterprise is this is a not a “go it alone” endeavor. In the case of Quntum3D, the company offers its MANTIS IG software for these projects and has robust, diverse partnerships, some of which include: an OEM customer for its tailored software; Varjo for the XR-3 and XR-4 HMD; ART for flight dynamics; and Brunner for the supply of its motion base.

Before moving on from emerging virtual training constructs for eVTOL operators, its important to glean some of the early lessons learned from this domain – pointing to the rigor of required scenarios. Kose reflected on his evolving projects and initially noted: the importance of the HMD display, typically 90 frames per second, with currently available high-end GPUs; Mixed Reality (MR) rather than pure VR to enable pilot interaction with real physical flight controls; demanding visual system attributes including high-resolution, anti-aliasing; support of the customer’s software; and others.

The author also spoke with Walter Drasl, Managing Partner, FAST, after his team showcased the latest version of their eVTOL MR flight simulator for demonstration at this month’s ILA Berlin 24.

FAST’s focus on presenting physics-based, rigorous visual systems in its MR eVTOL simulator (left) is synchronized with the dynamic, complex urban mission sets from which eVTOL pilots will operate – including from vertiports atop high-rise buildings. Source: FAST

While the corporate leader called the flight simulator a “safe and stable, operational running system,” FAST continues to make incremental improvements to the training device to further meet early OEM requirements for eVTOL flight training and remain ahead of anticipated regulatory rules.

In one case, a complete instructor station has been added. “We are also ‘flying’ with normal procedures using an image generator from blackshark.ai,” the former airline captain said. FAST’s focus on presenting physics-based, rigorous visual systems is synchronized with the dynamic, complex urban mission sets from which eVTOL pilots will operate – including from vertiports atop high-rise buildings.

Another attention-getting feature of this MR flight simulator is motion – beyond a 6-DOF configuration most commonly found in FFSs supporting current pilot training. “There is no instructor on an eVTOL. You have to have the optimum on a training device which is visual and motion. It is our goal to have a ‘6-DOF (+)’,” the executive remarked. And beyond that is the capability to still provide the pilot community training “gold standard” of zero flight time, much as an FFS delivers at a current training organization.

FAST will pursue a parallel path after this ILA to also gain regulatory certifications. Indeed, Drasl was another industry executive who noted his company is helping to inform regulators about the simulation and training aspects of pilot training as they await these organizations’ overarching rules and regulations for eVTOL pilots.

FAST’s eVTOL simulator is a foundation of the company’s efforts to help EVFLY develop a full concept for eVTOL pilot training. Beyond this effort, and bolstered by time at ILA 24, the FAST leader indicated his team is further engaged with other OEMs and other eVTOL community stakeholders around the globe on business opportunities regarding the supply of its MR simulator.

Another major eVTOL S&T community development emerged this May when Loft Dynamics announced it was expanding beyond helicopters to include eVTOL aircraft simulators. Loft Dynamics noted as it is the first and only virtual reality (VR) simulator with major regulatory approval, it is now leveraging its technology to develop its first VR eVTOL simulator for Dufour Aerospace, an eVTOL flight technology provider. They shared that the Aero3 VR eVTOL simulator is currently in development and scheduled to enter the market in early 2025.

Training Enterprise Foundation Build-up

Also this May, Archer and Etihad sent a seismic shockwave through the broader commercial aviation industry when it signed an agreement to lay the groundwork for a partnership to recruit and train prospective pilots for Archer's Midnight aircraft in Abu Dhabi to fly aircraft across the UAE. The collaboration’s implications are significant: while the OEM paired up with a globally-recognized commercial aviation training center of excellence it also places this team into head-to-head competition for the next tranches of aviators – be it for eVTOL, the legacy air lines or military air services.

Archer intends to deliver a Midnight aircraft simulator to be housed and staffed by Etihad Training at its training center in Abu Dhabi for research and development of pilot training competencies, to support the required regulatory certifications

Together, Archer and Etihad Training intend to engage with the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) to establish an appropriate pilot training curriculum in the UAE to enable safe and efficient Archer eVTOL operations as soon as 2025.

The Regulator’s Role

GCAA’s role in advancing the nascent Archer-Etihad eVTOL program represents the vital position of the regulatory authority in establishing the eVTOL pilot training enterprise. Indeed, in the US, OEMs and their S&T industry team mates continue to await the Federal Aviation Administration’s move beyond its proposed Special Federal Aviation Regulation for powered-lift pilot certification and operations. The final regulation will mold the scope and breadth of the eVTOL pilot community, as it will mandate flight hours required to obtain a powered-lift category rating and other requirements.

eVTOL OEMs and their S&T industry partners are engaged to inform FAA and other regulatory agencies around the globe about pilot training technologies to help the organizations issue governing standards and rules. Source: FAA

A Work in Progress

CAT will continue to monitor and comment on developments and trends in the maturing eVTOL pilot training enterprise.

Community members desiring to maintain our awareness of these activities may contact the author at marty.kauchak@halldale.com.


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