Thursday, May 6, 2010

How do we prepare pilots, crews for high tech?

Everything in this year, decade, century is HIGH TECH including aircraft. New technology is not just in smoothing flight control inputs or fuel flow, but communication and visual technology that alert the crew to flight path, other aircraft and ground proximity. So how do we prepare pilots, crews for high tech?

In our daily lives we learn technology from friends, family, and just being adventurous. We learn our blackberry or IPhone apps through trial and error. We read "how to" books "for dummies'. We watch online videos and ask questions in online forums. If we make a mistake or "crash" a system we take to a local geek and get it fixed. This obviously does not work in aircraft - so what do we do?

To successfully teach technology we need technology. Experience has shown that training pilots and crews in simulators has proven to be the most effective technique for improving proficiency in aircraft control. What is not so obvious is the ability to make better decisions because of the practice sessions in the simulator. Simulator training is not just a course in maintaining control of an aircraft or understanding how the systems work. Simulators provide an ability to train in actual scenarios that are flown by the aircraft and the crew. Airlines and corporate flight departments recognized the value of simulator training more than 20 years ago. It is shown in the overall safety record of these aircraft operations.

Why not helicopters? Why did helicopter operators not jump on the simulator training band wagon? One reason was that helicopter manufacturers moved more slowly into the high tech world. Although a helicopter is truly an engineering marvel, the wizardry of advanced technology is relatively new. So now that the technology is here, the training is trying to catch up. Some of the new simulators are now available for both single and multiengine helicopters. Some of the medium and large helicopter had simulation available for years. Simulation was not available for smaller helicopters or some of the European manufacturers. This is all changing. Simulators are being developed for all of the most popular models. For example FlightSafety now has the Bell 206 in Lafayette and the AS350 AStar in Tucson. They are also adding the Bell 407 and EC135 later this year. These models are NVG compatible and offer the latest in the cockpit technology.

This new availability of simulators and scenario based training if kept at an affordable level appropriate to the customer base will have a positive effect on the safety as well as the economics of the industry.

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