Just like aviation itself, aviation training has come a long way since the early days of flight, and many training enhancements are the direct result of new technologies. In today’s highly technological society, technology is a thoroughly integrated component of the pilot training experience. As we continue to develop our capabilities, technology is affecting and changing aviation training.
3 Types of aviation training technologies
Several different types of technology are being used to enhance aviation training. All operate under the premise that it is possible to engage in meaningful, useful pilot training outside of and in addition to standard flight hours. These technologies open up new possibilities in the world of training.
Flight simulators are one of the most prevalent technologies used in aviation training and one with the longest history of use. Thanks to advanced simulators, pilots can practice tricky maneuvers and skills that require numerous repetitions without the need to be in an actual aircraft. The training environment is designed to replicate the real world as closely as possible so that the skills gained in simulators will transfer over. By augmenting real-world in-flight training with a high-quality simulation, pilots cut back on the number of flight hours they need to log in an actual aircraft to earn new certificates or maintain currency. This offers a cost savings for both pilots and the companies they work for.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual Reality headsets have been popularized for gaming applications, and they are also valuable training tools for pilots. Through virtual reality, pilots can get the visual experience of being inside the cockpit while sitting at home. Virtual Reality training bypasses the need for a dedicated training facility or full-scale simulator. This saves not only on space requirements but also on cost, as virtual reality training systems cost substantially less than a full-size mockup of an aircraft or cockpit. They also make it easier to train across multiple aircraft.
One of the downsides of VR has historically been its lack of tactile feedback. While pilots can “see” the cockpit environment, when they interact with that environment through a standard virtual reality interface, those interactions are done via air taps which lack the feel of the real instrument panels. This detracts from the realism of the simulation and can decrease the muscle memory value of the training exercise.
To improve the virtual reality experience, some VR systems are incorporating haptic feedback. This buzzing tactile sensation more closely simulates the feel of touching and interacting with controls in the real-world cockpit environment. Haptic feedback is accomplished by using mechanical actuators on the hands and fingertips.
Augmented Reality (AR)
One of the newest innovative ways technology is being incorporated into pilot training is through augmented or mixed reality. With augmented reality, 3D holographic content is integrated with the physical world to enhance the training environment. While sitting in an actual cockpit, pilot trainees can see a digital overlay guide and receive simultaneous audio instruction walking them through the steps of an operational procedure.
Beyond the private sector, the military is also seeing the promise of technologically advanced training. The United States Air Force has adopted both virtual reality and augmented reality training for its fighter pilots at Nellis Air Force Base’s new Virtual Test and Training Center (VTTC).
For fighter pilots, augmented reality can support training in an actual aircraft with fully responsive visuals of enemy fighter planes supplied through the augmented reality system. This lets pilots engage the enemy craft in dog fighting maneuvers in a safer setting than if both aircraft were real-life planes.
Technology and Communications Training
While much is being explored with respect to incorporating technology into operational flight training, there has been a seeming lack of discussion around using it to advance communications training as well. This is interesting given that many new pilots historically consider radio communications to be one of the areas they are most nervous about. Communications skills are also vitally important to develop as they support safe flight and efficient operations in congested airspace.
Many books and training guides have been written to help pilots learn this important skill, but it is time we brought technology into play as well. Too often pilots are limited to listening to static sound bites of pre-recorded ATC traffic, monitoring the local tower while on the ground, or role-playing with their flight instructor, but they are unable to interact and practice real-time except for when they are actually up in the air.
Training in this way is better than nothing, but it limits the amount of time pilots spend putting their communications book knowledge into practice and it can delay achievement of aviation radio proficiency.
An easy way to augment, enhance, and speed up your aviation communications training is with the PlaneEnglish ARSim Aviation Radio Simulator. Available for both Android and iOS, this intuitive app covers all the different types of communications scenarios you may face in flight and enables you to learn the radiotelephony terms and phrases. The app covers both VFR and IFR comms ranging from requesting clearance to takeoff, departure, enroute, landings, emergencies, and more.
The interactive training provides ample practice listening, responding to, and initiating radio communications as well as personalized analysis, feedback, and proficiency scoring. Practice initiating flight following, calling a Mayday, or requesting airspace clearance all on your own free time using just your smart phone. Notice how much more confident and at ease you feel with the radio when you log your next flight time.
The world of flight training is rapidly evolving, and technology is playing a key role in that transformation. Simulators of all kinds including standard flight simulators, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) devices are all being used to maximize the aviation training experience in both civilian and military sectors. Their use cuts back on the costs and dedicated flight time needed to train new pilots and maintain existing proficiency. Another area of opportunity for technology-enhanced aviation training is communications. Interactive aviation radio simulation training is available using just your smart phone as an easy, effective, low-cost way to quickly build vital communications skills. Download the PlaneEnglish ARSim Aviation Radio Simulator app for Android or iOS to get started today.