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FlightSafety Taps New Tech for Training

For visitors to various industry events over the past few years, FlightSafe International is showcasing examples of some of the new training technologies it is developing. But to take a deeper dive into what the company’s developers are doing, a trip to the FlightSafe Simulation Systems factory in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, reveals more about how aviation training is advancing rapidly in the future.

At FlightSafety’s Oklahoma plant, the company builds flight simulators and training devices for its network of distance learning centers and for customers who operate their own training facilities. An example of one of the new training products employed is the use of Virtual Reality (VR) for maintenance of Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engines at FlightSafe Wichita, Kansas, Learning Center. FlightSafety has also established advanced training for government customers primarily using augmented and mixed reality (AR and MR) technology. The U.S. Navy’s Naval Aviation Training Next-Project Avenger, for example, seeks to reduce training time for new pilots. The program introduces pilot trainees among MR trainers, where they can “fly” a simulated T-6B Texan II Unit Training Device (UTD) using real power and flight control while wearing a Varjo MR headset to prepare to fly a real aircraft.

The advantage of MR is that it combines VR with actual cockpit control and display so that the trainees get better practice which is more portable on the actual aircraft. These devices are being used for pilot screening, cockpit contact, basic flight and emergency procedures, traffic pattern operations and geographic contact.

Adding AR to the mix makes it possible to fly in formation with other virtual aircraft without the flying hazard of real structure. Other uses include mission rehearsals, aerial refueling exercises and other mission-related flying tasks.

FlightSafe offers a dome-type visual system for its military aircraft simulators and gives pilots better 360-degree views of the outside world, but dome systems are expensive, with large visual displays and projector systems and significant power requirements. MR devices are much less expensive to operate, only need to be plugged into a common power strip and can help reduce initial training time according to flightSafe. This gives operators more flexibility for new pilot training, leaving high-end dome systems for more advanced training.

UTD flying

During my visit to FlightSafe’s Broken Arrow facility, I was invited to use the UTD T-6B simulator, basically, the same unit that operates at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas. Once I put on the Verzo headset, I could “see” the outside world from my cockpit, and I was parked at the Florida Simulated Naval Air Station Whiting Field, ready to take off.

The outside view set during the day was clear and sharp and unlike other simulators, the viewing area did not disappear when I turned my head outside a certain point. I got to see where I was looking and it made the experience very realistic.

Everyone outside of UTD, including the instructor, can see what I see on the repeater monitor. Because I was sitting in a replica cockpit, I had direct experience manipulating physical controls, buttons, knobs and switches. This adds more realism to the simulation, and I can easily feel that training at UTD will help a new pilot maximize their knowledge before boarding the actual plane.

After flying from Whiting Field, I became acquainted with the controls of the T-6B in a loop and roll fly and enjoyed the experience of flying this smooth, powerful turboprop instructor over simulated Florida. The trainer then built another T-6B nearby so I scouted to fly some formations. I have flown the formation before, and it was very realistic, requiring a lot of effort to maintain the position, using constant control movements and throttle manipulation, while looking out of another aircraft. I could easily see that spending time on this device would help pilots prepare for actual aircraft flight, much more efficiently than conventional methods such as “chair flying” or even an advanced training device.

    KC-46 (Boeing 767) Aerial Refueling Aircrew Weapon System Trainer (WST) at Broken Arrow

KC-46 (Boeing 767) Aerial Refueling Aircrew Weapon System Instructor (WST) at Broken Arrow.

KC-46 tanker is flying

FlightSafe built a complete KC-46 (Boeing 767) Aerial Refueling Aircrew Weapon System Trainer (WST) on Broken Arrow and I was able to spend some time trying to connect both the tanker and control the Boom Operator Instructor (BOT).

The simulator is a full-motion type with FlightSafe’s latest vital glass mirror display technology. The simulator BOT station is mounted on a motion base attached to the flight deck simulator so that they can both move together so that the crew can experience the same while training at WST. The BOT on the original KC-46 is located behind the flight deck. During this demo, we didn’t use Motion Base, but it was still very realistic.

I started the demo by flying a KC-46 that would take charge of the fuel. Being nowhere near aerial refueling operations, it was a unique experience. I was told that pilots who hook up with a tanker do so relatively quickly, move closer to the tanker, slow down faster, then capture the end of the refueling drug basket with their aircraft search.

The probe of the KC-46 is on the flight deck, so I have to slide the bottom of my KC-46 tanker and get close enough so that the drug disappears from my sight as soon as I hook it.

Trying to connect with the drug was hard enough, but the two huge planes found to fly close to each other were, in my opinion, the hardest part. Until I saw it in the simulator, I never realized how close you had to fly to connect to a tanker. In the sweet spot, the tanker fills up more than the outside view of the windshield and it seems like a small wrong move could lead to disaster. Which can.

Apparently, it’s easier when the speed is turned on. I was too chicken to try the “soup and hook up” method, so I slowly moved my KC-46 forward, trying to match the speed of the tanker while getting into the drug. Each time I approached, the disturbance of waking up pushed my plane to one side and I had to try again. My problem was that I was too close to the tanker and too hesitant to get up personally.

Finally, after three anxious attempts to investigate the drug while the tanker flew in close proximity at 275 knots with my windshield filling, I was able to connect. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I had to fly my plane while hooking up and I was relaxed for a moment and disconnected before my plane took any fuel.

Obviously, it was a short demo flight and some training would help. But I’ve got a good feel for the challenges of aerial refueling and especially how the need to fill near-empty tanks can add a significant amount of pressure to the situation.

By switching to BOT, I have tried to perform the same operation from the position of the boom operator using the remote vision system. The KC-46 Boom operator does not sit on the tail of the aircraft because the boom and the rear view of the aircraft are all on the video display, not the outside view directly through the window. A large display shows a view of the refueling aircraft while the top three displays show side views of other aircraft waiting or a view of multiple drugs, when so equipped. The operator can choose between visual or infrared views on the display.

There are two hand controls for the boom operator. The right control moves the boom forward and backward and sideways, while the left control moves the drug forward and backward.

BOT has three levels of aggression settings, 1 (easiest) to 3 (including turbulence and turning flight). Of course, I started with the number 1, and my first job was to refuel a KC-46, then an F16 then an F22. It seemed a lot easier to connect with these planes than to try to connect while flying. The boom responded precisely to the controls, and probably because the simulated pilots flying the simulated aircraft were good at their job, I was able to connect in each case, even at high aggression levels.

FlightSafety is expanding the use of such “immersive” technology not only for pilots, but also for technician training, such as its VR engine course. The company is further developing, it said, “3D aircraft walkarounds with exterior doors and controls and a detailed system display between the cockpit and cabin. It provides value for other users who may not be familiar with the aircraft for an emergency and general operating system experience. The goal is to enhance the product experience for everyone involved with the aircraft. We believe we should not only prepare the pilot, we should prepare everyone involved; Including maintenance technicians, cabin crew, ground crew and passengers. ”

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