by: Ginger Pinholster
Vice President of Communications, Embry-Riddle
A group of 58 flight students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have been able to reduce the time it took them to complete a first solo flight by more than 30%, thanks to a flight training program in one-of-a-kind general aviation.
Although the results remain preliminary, reports from instructor pilots have been positive, said Dr. Ken Byrnes, chairman of the flight department at the Embry-Riddle campus in Daytona Beach, Florida. “Students who take our new training program are better prepared when they get on a plane,” Byrnes reported. “They also have less anxiety and more confidence because of their experience and understanding of what to expect on the plane.”
The PILOT program, or Pre-flight Immersion Laboratory for Operations Training, an evidence-based approach that can save flight students time and money, was launched by Embry-Riddle in the fall of 2021.
Embry-Riddle flight training manager Nicole Hester agreed the program is paying off. “We’ve had students complete and solo at times we’ve never seen before,” Hester said. “We are also getting feedback from our instructor pilots that students in the new program can immediately control the aircraft and understand radio communications very well.”
While Embry-Riddle faced high demand for its highly regarded aeronautical science degree program, “the idea was to increase capacity by increasing efficiency,” said Dr. Alan Stolzer, dean of the Daytona Beach College of Aviation. “We also wanted to improve student learning, improve aviation safety and help the industry address a critical shortage of qualified pilots.”
Innovative VR tools
As part of the program, incoming flight students spend their first four weeks learning pre-flight, checklist and flight procedures in unique virtual reality environments developed by Embry-Riddle and its industry partners. Students then continue to work with their flight instructor, performing oral and simulator activities.
“We believe this is the first use of these VR technologies for general aviation training,” Byrnes said.
Using Embry-Riddle’s custom VR platforms, students practice tasks ranging from aircraft checklists and preflight inspection, takeoffs and landings, flight maneuvers and communications radio with air traffic control. Students learn the basics of flight maneuvers with a VR flight trainer from True Course Simulations.
The VR software helps students leverage what they have learned during simulator and oral activities by focusing on a three-step learning process: reading, watching, and doing.
First, the student will read a short pre-flight briefing that gives them the essential material they need to know before each “mission” or flight lesson. Secondly, the student will watch a video showing the maneuver or task being performed. This way, they get a visual about the objective, as well as additional information about the maneuver or the task itself. Third, students bring all of their knowledge together in a high-resolution interactive simulation. The simulation allows them to fly, applying everything they have learned until they achieve mastery.
Another technology called CAART (Commercial Aviation Augmented Reality Toolkit), developed with Cole Engineering Solutions of Orlando, Florida, allows students to learn checklists as well as the process of aircraft walkthrough and sit in a virtual Cessna 172 trainer on a simulated Embry-Riddle. flight ramp.
“We can make about 50 things go wrong with the plane while the student is doing the virtual pre-flight inspection,” said Robert L. Thomas, assistant professor of aeronautical science. “It’s a hugely useful learning experience because in the real world our planes are maintained with the aim of avoiding any problems.”
Students can also practice and learn checklists in a more immersive environment before moving on to the actual aircraft.
Mastering aviation English
Embry-Riddle’s PILOT program also includes a virtual air traffic control laboratory. There, students accompany a 360 degree video of an actual flight with a virtual instructor. The instructor introduces students to a variety of flight scenarios in complex environments such as a busy arrival at Daytona Beach International Airport. Throughout the video flight, the instructor explains what is being said on the radio and how it relates to the actions the student is to take.
On actual flights, explained ATC course designer and aviation English coordinator Andrew Schneider, instructors have little time to stop and review what is happening via radio communications, step by step. In the Embry-Riddle simulation, students can listen to radio communications between the instructor and ATC without distraction, learn phraseology, and develop listening fluency.
Students can then practice speaking on the radio in another VR trainer. The Pilot Phraseology Trainer helps students practice radio calls at their own pace, focusing on repetitive listening and speaking accuracy with simulated ATC.
In the final stage of radio training, students enter a VR flight so they can test their skills in a simulated environment for realistic ATC training (SERA technology, developed by ATSi). When they speak with ATC, the SERA system uses artificial intelligence software to react to what the student pilot says as they fly, correcting them when they make mistakes.
For example, Schneider said, “The student pilot will hear and see that there is a Delta flight leaving the ramp. They have to communicate in the midst of other communicating pilots, and the AI environment reacts in real time to what the student says.
After four weeks of virtual training, Byrnes said: “Students are getting on planes and flying every day, when traditionally they wouldn’t fly so often. We’ve given them all the information they need, all the tools and the practice, to start applying new skills in a real airplane environment before they get there.