Flight Simulators – The Learning Laboratory of Aerial Work Aviation

What flight training sector has the primary "linchpin" job to ensure the aircrew of Aerial Work aviation have the safe space to practice "motor & mental skills" to perform in "dull, dirty & dangerous" situations? Patrick Ryan answers this question and describes how specialized training devices make the simulator world the mainstay of bringing together the classroom and the mission for Aerial Work crewmembers.

Patrick Ryan  |  19th July 2023
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    Patrick Ryan
    Patrick Ryan

    Patrick Ryan brings over 30 years of experience as a Senior Consultant helping government and business...

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    Flight Simulators –  The Learning Laboratory of Aerial Work Aviation


    Suppose you've ever dreamed of becoming an Aerial Surveillance Sensor Operator, Aerial Firefighting pilot, helicopter Hoist Operator, or even a flight nurse. In that case, there is a good chance a simulator, or what I would like to call a "learning laboratory", will be a big part of your training. 

    Flight simulators do what their name suggests: they instruct you on operating in a simulated flying environment by giving you some relatively realistic experience vs. actually flying. You're right if flight simulators sound like a lot of fun, but they do much more than allow you to enjoy some fun in a low-risk environment. They also instruct you on some crucial things about flying in demanding Aerial Work operations. 

    Even though the flight simulator training sector is one part of a more significant flight training industry that instructs everything related to preparing aircrew to operate both manned and unmanned aircraft for general aviation and commercial transportation, it is also a significant part of the Aerial Work aviation sector. So, what are these "learning laboratories" of Aerial Work Aviation?

    Flight Simulators 101 

    First, to understand how flight simulators help the Aerial Work to produce current and qualified crewmembers, it's essential to understand what flight simulators are and their general purpose. As mentioned, flight simulators or Flight Simulator Training Devices (FSTD) are fundamental components of commercial, military, and general aviation training. 

    FSTDs are designed to replicate various aspects of real-world flying and Aerial Work operations, including aircraft control, navigation, communications, mission scenarios, and emergency procedures. They, on average, include cockpit and specialized crew position replicas, realistic controls, motion, visual displays, and an audio system to create a lifelike experience.  

    The real purpose of FSTDs is to enhance an individual's aircrew capabilities, aptitudes, productivity, and performance beyond the classroom and flight. In addition, it influences and reinforces the baseline of critical knowledge and motor skills needed to fly safely and effectively. In other words, it's a safe place to "practice everything together until you get it right." Besides that, Flight Simulator Training Devices also support maintaining aircrew currency, difference training, and skill upgrades throughout a crew member's personal or professional pursuit, in addition to the basic or initial training required for specific aircrew positions. On top of all that, FSTDs support other areas of aviation, which include flight research, flight testing and accident investigations 

    Benefits & Disadvantages

    As with everything in life and the things we do, there are advantages and disadvantages. No flight simulator system is entirely "realistic." Flight simulator systems vary in complexity and realism, with more complex and realistic systems producing more realistic experiences. In the case of FSTDs, these are the general advantages and disadvantages of using such technology:

    Benefits – Flight simulators provide obvious and not-so-obvious benefits compared to live flight training. Here are some advantages of using FTSDs:
    Safety - The obvious benefit is that the FTSD environment is designed to avoid actual safety risks for the trainees and instructors.
    Complex Scenarios – FTSDs offer the opportunity to train on unique or dangerous scenarios, e.g., emergency procedures etc.
    Realism – FTSDs provide a level of realism not found in the classroom.
    Availability – FSTDs are available around the clock compared to aircraft and are not limited to weather and other operational constraints.
    Economical – Compared to actual flight time, FTSDs are more economical per hour.
    Environmental – FTSD carbon-foot-print and noise pollution emission is less than an aircraft.

    Disadvantages – On the flip side, some of the disadvantages are:
    Adaptation Skills ("Gaming the System") – Students learn how to fly the FSTD vs. the aircraft.
    No Stress – Stress can change behaviors drastically, especially in a learning environment. FSTDs mitigate stress because of the low-risk factor, which hinders a level of learning.
     Simulator Sickness –Both fixed and motion FSTDs can cause sweating, fatigue, dizziness, and vomiting.

    Types of FSTDs 

    When it comes to the types of FSTDs used in the Aerial Work aviation sector, they vary from multimillion-dollar Full Motion Simulators to model aircraft glued to a stick. Here is a list of some of the types (from simple to complex) of FSTDs used to train Aerial Work flight crews: 

    Computer-Based Trainers (CBT) – Computer-based training (CBT) consist of using a personal or networked computer to deliver and access training programs. CBT can be online, web-based, mobile, and distance learning.
    Part Task Trainers (PTT) – Part Task Trainers (PTTs) provide training for a specific sub-area of an aircraft for isolated tasks training on specific systems. They provide a need for a particular device through training in a comprehensive simulator.
    Cockpit Procedure Trainers (CPT) – Cockpit Procedure Trainers (CPT) encompass full-size realistic replicas of an aircraft cockpit complete with flying controls, displays, and ancillary systems. They provide training for aircrew and groundcrew in; cockpit familiarization, pre-flight checks, fault-finding procedures, and more.
    Flight Training Devices (FTD) – Flight Training Devices (FTD) features a non-moving aircraft flight deck or interior, offering the feel and function of an actual aircraft. FTDs provide realistic flight controls, audio simulation, and visual capabilities that provide day, dusk, and night VFR and IFR conditions.
    Full Flight Simulators – Like an FTD, a Full Flight Simulator also provides a full motion system to enhance the flying experience.
    Mission Training Devices (MTD) – Like a CPT, Mission Training Devices are full aircraft replication that delivers critical elements of synchronized front and rear crew for specific scenarios such as Search & Rescue, Aerial Firefighting, Medical Evacuation, and Aerial Surveillance.

    The Focus of Aerial Work Aviation Simulators & Devices 

    Unlike primary flight training in the pilot environment, flight simulators and training devices prepare both rated and non-rated flight crews for special mission operations. In other words, fly and learn as a team closer to "dull, dirty, and dangerous" environments without risk. 

    From a general aviation perspective, most people think flight simulators are for gamers, students, and airline pilots sitting in front of the controls of a cockpit mock-up for general point A to B flying. However, the Aerial Work FTSD sector is more than that. 

    Besides instructing pilots, the Aerial Work Flight Simulator sector focuses on those unique equipment, systems, procedures, and operations associated with special missions. In other words, it's more than sitting in a classroom but exercising or training one's "eye-hands-brain" faculties with specialized systems and operations. In the best training situation, a whole crew participates in a simulated training event together. 

    Regarding training, simulators, and mock-up devices both support initial training and advanced training of Aerial Work crews in the following way:

    Initial Training 
    Depending on what Aerial Work aircrew position a person is training for, the basic instructional areas the Flight Simulator sector support are:
    • Aerospace Physiology
    • Airmanship
    • Basic Aircraft Systems & Capabilities (Manned & Unmanned aircraft)
    • Crew Resource Management and Human Factors
    • Emergency Procedures
    • and more…

    Advanced Training 
    Going beyond Initial Training. The simulator sector has specialized devices and setups emphasizing specific aircrew duties or jobs. Here are just a few of the specialized Aerial Work training & certification programs the sector supports:
    • Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) Sensor Operator Training
    • Drone Commerical Aerial Surveying & Mapping Training
    • Helicopter Hoist Operator Training
    • Police Tactical Flight Officer Training
    • Air Ambulance or HEMS crew Training
    • and many more…. 

    Types of Aerial Work Simulators & Devices 

    As mentioned, Aerial Work simulators and training devices vary from simple mock-ups to advanced complexes housing full-motion platforms. Even though there are many different types of FSTDs, here are some unique or critical FSTDs that support both initial and advanced training in the Aerial Work world. 

    Basic Training 
    Altitude Chamber – An altitude chamber simulates high altitude conditions, such as low oxygen, low pressure, low temperature, and humidity. One of the purposes of an altitude chamber is to train aircrew on the physiological effects of high-altitude flying. Altitude chambers can vary in size, shape, and design and can simulate up to 150,000 feet. Other names for altitude chambers are hypoxic, hypobaric, or hyperbaric chambers. 

    Spatial Disorientation Trainer – Spatial disorientation simulators enable safe training for aircrew regarding visual illusions and spatial disorientation. Spatial disorientation simulators have two main goals. The first one is familiarizing aircrew with spatial disorientation phenomena. The second goal is to increase the efficiency of aircrew to recognize, analyze and adequately react to actual and simulated situations which lead to spatial disorientation. 

    Underwater Egress Trainer (UET) – An Underwater Egress Simulator or trainer (UET) primarily teaches helicopter underwater escape procedures to aircrews and passengers. The UET concept replicates a helicopter's (or other aircraft types) fuselage and interior and rapidly submerges it in water. The usual design of a UET consists of a simple airframe and a large pool. The airframe is maneuvered in and out of the water (and rotated upside down) to replicate catastrophic water ditchings.

    Specialized Training 

    Air Ambulance Training Simulator – Air Ambulance Training simulators or devices replicate the fuselage and systems of an air medical evacuation aircraft platform designed explicitly for aeromedical training scenarios. These devices vary from Part Task Trainers to Full Motion Simulators. One such simulator is the CAE C-130 Aero Medical Trainer. The simulator trains USAF aeromedical crews for pre-flight, emergency procedures, and in-flight patient care. The addition of a motion platform increases realism and enables the aeromedical crews to rehearse critical procedures.

    Aerial Surveillance or Maritime Patrol Training Device – Popular with the Public Safety and Security sectors of Aerial Work aviation, these sectors, with their complex aircraft, systems, and missions, use Mission Training Devices (MTD) to synchronize all the aspects of a special mission operation in a challenging but controlled environment. The training primarily focuses on crew resource management, navigation, sensor operations, and chat and radio operations. 

    Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) Simulator – When it comes to specific Aerial Work systems and equipment, many Aerial Work crews that use EO/IR sensors practice on desktop computers with a hand-control. These simulators are portable Part Task Trainers (PTT), providing scenario-based and "switchology" training to support a variety of operational missions or scenarios. 

    Aerial Surveying, Inspection & Monitoring Drone Simulators – A drone flight simulator is a computer-based software devised to duplicate the experience of flying a drone in real life on any personal electronic device - PC, tablet, or smartphone. Control of the simulated drone is either by a handheld control or a touchscreen. There are two main types of flight simulator programs. The first type focuses on helping train commercial drone pilots and improving their skills regarding aerial inspections, aerial surveillance, videography, etc. The second type, probably the most plentiful, aims to provide an introduction to or improve First Pilot View (FPV) or Remote Person View (RPV) skills. 

    The Next Generation 

    What next is the integration of more reality. Matt Presnal, Chief Theoretical Knowledge Instructor at Coptersafety, says: "Technology is ever evolving at a lightning pace every day. Advances in simulation technologies, computing strength, and speeds, and graphics generation powered by next-generation computing and gaming engines have taken 3D graphic realism to the next level. We expect these advances to be seen quickly." 

    As you can see, the flight simulator sector is heavily investing in technology to go beyond visual and audible learning with enhanced kinetic involvement. The benefits of this new technology generation will help further reduce training costs, provide faster training, and enhance comprehension and retention for aircrew. 

    Going beyond traditional simulator devices, you can anticipate the following technologies will, in some form, be integrated into every phase or type of aircrew training – be it for Crop Dusting, Aerial Firefighting, or Aerial Mapping & Surveying: 

    Virtual Reality (VR) devices – VR training devices allow users to interact with their training environment via hand gestures or in a mixed-reality application using physical buttons or levers. Along with this, students receive visual and audible representations through a head-mounted display like a headset. 

    Haptics Technology – Haptics technology provides a sense of "touch and feel" through pressure on virtual or remote objects. With all senses engaged, the user is immersed in the training environment and has a 'real' experience – visually and physically. 

    Augmented Reality (AR) – Augmented Reality simulates cockpit or control systems beyond the traditional simulator experiences. They enhance the learning experience by projecting the actual environment and aircraft systems in stereoscopic 3D. 

    Beyond Next Generation – Along with the rest of the world, Machine Learning, Data Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will also play a more significant role in providing realistic training scenarios across the spectrum of flight training. 

    In addition to the next generation and basic training technology, with the following human generation of aircrew growing up in the digital age, raised on smartphones, iPads, video games, and the Internet, they learn differently than the methods used by many traditional crew training programs. With this, the flight simulator sector will introduce more human-to-machine interfaces that relate to the "Gamer" generation vs. "Baby-boomers." Overall, the primary goal in the future for the simulator world will be to improve training standards, decrease the time to qualify an individual, and do all this for less. 

    Without A Doubt 

    The Aerial Work Flight Simulator sector is more than just a cockpit simulator where student pilots learn to fly. Instead, the Aerial Work Flight Simulator sector is a global industry that also trains special aircrew members to accomplish unique tasks safely and effectively. Today, the Aerial Work Flight Simulator sector utilizes many types of devices ranging from multi-million dollar Underwater Egress training facilities to simple drone training apps on a smartphone. All of which helps train and qualify those special crews throughout their flying career. 

    Flight simulators and devices effectively fill that space between the classroom and the flying environment. Additionally, specialized FSTDs will only grow in form & fit well into the future with more realistic experiences. Without a doubt, they provide a safe space to trial & error one's skills without risk. One could say specialized Aerial Work Flight Simulators are genuinely a "learning laboratory."

    See all of our Multi-Mission articles at our online Multi-Mission Aircraft Hub: www.avbuyer.com/articles/multi-mission-aircraft-hub  

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