Recurrent training changes with the times
Pick almost any industry in today's high-pressure marketplace and "Do more—better, faster and cheaper" might be its motto. It certainly fits the pilot training sector, especially when it comes to recurrent training.
"As avionics become more sophisticated and the air traffic control system provides more opportunity to use that equipment, customers want more opportunity to use it during training," says Greg McGowan, vp of operations for FlightSafety Intl in Dallas TX.
"Today, avionics manufacturers bring out new equipment every 6 months, and there could be 100 different variations of the cockpit array for a single model of aircraft. Our challenge is to figure out how to keep up with that in a cost-effective manner. And we have to cover all the new technologies in the same time we have been afforded for the past 20 years."
SimCom CEO Tracy Brannon agrees. "The fleet was fairly homogeneous 20 years ago," he says. "Today, with the extremely broad array of avionics available for the cockpit, it is very difficult to meet all those individual needs. That is probably the biggest demand we are seeing from the customer. It will be a continuing challenge for at least the next 5 years."
Yet hardware isn't everything. "We train on 80 different aircraft types," says CAE Training Solutions, Global Learning Officer Bob Tyler, in Montreal QC, Canada. "We have considerably more than 1000 courses to address what our customers need. Most of those variations grow from their specific missions, rather than equipment or cockpit variations."
Customer needs have also been changing. For example, holding patterns used to be at the top of pilot wish lists for refreshers. Recently, that concern has eased. As Brannon reports, "Thanks to moving maps, the pilot no longer has to visualize holding what would be the proper entry point.
The demand to understand how to enter a hold properly has somewhat been displaced by avionics. We still teach how to enter a hold properly, just in case the automation goes out, but there is less emphasis on it."
Many customers now require training with GPS/WAAS, he adds. "We have been installing GPS/WAAS units in all 45 of our simulators worldwide. Of course, we've also had to modify the classroom curriculum to cover that."
At CAE, they have seen another trend. "Our clients have been asking for a lot more upset training," says Tyler. "They are much more concerned with how to respond to events where aircraft have become unmanageable than they once were. Of course, we have modified our curriculum to accommodate that requirement."
To cope with these and other demands, all 3 training organizations say they have been adopting some innovations in education. They are trying to bring their training much closer to real-world operations, replacing classroom lectures with more hands-on teaching methods. And they are adopting new technologies, such as distance learning and 3D displays.
"We are trying to migrate much [from the] real world into the training we do," affirms CAE's Tyler. "Traditional programs started with hours in the classroom reviewing the system. They used schematics and training devices to trace a molecule of air through an air conditioning system, for example.
That's fairly mundane. Real-world training is taking actual events that have occurred in the real world. We replicate malfunctions that have occurred in flight and teach how to deal with them."
At CAE, this is the province of Simfinity 2D trainers. They include both PC-based dual-monitor stations for the desktop and more elaborate cockpit simulators with displays and controls for both seats—providing what Tyler calls a realistic, fully-integrated training experience.
FSI began scenario-based training about 15 years ago, McGowan reports. But in the past 9 months, the company has rolled out more sophisticated ways to simulate an actual flight.
"Our Matrix training system uses full-flight Level D simulators and graphical flightdeck simulators to replicate the flight characteristics of their aircraft as closely as possible," he says.
"Our customers receive almost the entire experience they would have in a full-motion simulator, except for the motion itself, right in the classroom.
"After training, our SimVu system lets them review the session with an instructor on dual PC monitors that show exactly what happened inside and outside the cockpit. This makes it easy to review any irregularities that may have been missed during the simulator flight."
In some ways, rotorcraft flight can be harder to duplicate than fixed-wing missions, he notes. "Helicopter customers want much more detailed modeling of their operating conditions," McGowan says. "Fixed-wing pilots deal with a reasonably uniform environment. Helicopter pilots need a lot more detail about altitude and rate of closure on landing. Simulations are more complex, and our helicopter customers need a lot more variations."
The training companies are seeing another new demand. "Our customers are [increasingly] asking for distance learning," says CAE's Tyler. That way, he says, "Pilots can stay in touch with us and continue to study throughout the year. This has to increase their knowledge and proficiency."
Both CAE and FlightSafety have distance learning programs on the market for recurrent training. SimCom plans to roll theirs out this fall. "Pilots will be able to complete the majority of their training at home," says SimCom's Brannon. "We expect this to reduce the course length by 1–2 days, requiring the pilot to be present at the training center only for 1–2 days of simulator training."
In comparison, 3D simulation remains in its infancy. "It has been used mostly in the maintenance world so far," says Jim O'Connell, head of training at CAE. "Instead of being told how deep the grooves are on a part, for example, they can actually see them. But this is coming for pilots. I think 3D is the wave of
FlightSafety's Greg McGowan takes a measured view of the future. "In the short term, of course, we'll see more of the same," he says. "We'll see higher fidelity visual systems and probably some portable devices. The military has gotten very good at that. I think in 10 years we'll be able to take those devices a lot closer to the customers who need them, so that we can reduce their costs. Of course, a lot of where it goes will be determined by the regulators."
Even greater marvels may be in store. "I remember a science fiction movie where they had developed a helmet," McGowan adds. "While you were wearing it, you could drive a race car or fly a plane, and it would record everything you were experiencing so that you could experience exactly the same thing again later.
I don't know how long it's going to take for that to happen, but that's the sort of thing we're aiming for. With simulators, we are trying to create an experience that is as close to the real thing as possible. Some day there will be a better way to do it." —Owen Davies
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