The U.S. Army will kick off in April a program to test just how effective virtual reality and simulation may be in training students to fly helicopters, with hopes the results could offer a strategy to improve its curriculum and get more would-be pilots in the air faster.
The effort comes in part to better position the Army to meet more ambitious training requirements that the service hopes will combat the ongoing struggle to head off a pilot shortage.
“When there’s been no appreciable increase in the number of simulators or aircraft here to train, every touch point on an aviation platform — simulator or live — is critical,” Maj. Gen. William Gayler, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE) and Fort Rucker, said in an interview with Defense News. “Leveraging virtual reality with eventually some artificial intelligence, and some cognitive aiding technologies, are going to produce a far better product because there will be more frequency and repetition on those platforms.
“You may find that it also allows you to increase the throughput velocity through flight school, meaning they’re going to learn tasks quicker, they’re going to retain them longer. And if that translates into less time in flight school and less blade hours, that logically means less money because we pay for student training by blade hours.”
Defense News visited Fort Rucker while traveling with Army Secretary Mark Esper in January.
Virtual reality simulators are newer to the Army in part because finding a simulator that actually performs like a helicopter has been a challenge.
“In the commercial marketplace, people want to jump in and fly an airplane. And when people jump into a video game, they want to be able to succeed. It’s not designed to be difficult,” nor is it realistic, said Col. Chad Chasteen, commander of the 110th Aviation Brigade at the USAACE. “But I think we found a very good simulator. You pull in the power, you can feel it shake a little bit, you can hear the turbines increasing in pitch, you can feel the aircraft vibrating, and it requires a little bit of work to hover like a real helicopter. And I think that as we progress through the trials, we’re going to actually be able to make it even closer to the flight regimes that we want.”
Know all the coolest acronyms Sign up for the C4ISRNET newsletter about future battlefield technologies.
Enter a valid email address (please select a country) United States United Kingdom Afghanistan Albania Algeria American Samoa Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, The Democratic Republic of The Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote D’ivoire Croatia Cuba Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guam Guatemala Guinea Guinea-bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and Mcdonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hong Kong Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Marshall Islands Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Micronesia, Federated States of Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands Netherlands Antilles New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Northern Mariana Islands Norway Oman Pakistan Palau Palestinian Territory, Occupied Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Puerto Rico Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Helena Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and The Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia and Montenegro Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and The South Sandwich Islands Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan, Province of China Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States United States Minor Outlying Islands Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela Viet Nam Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, U.S. Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe
Thanks for signing up!
Fear no longer. Be the first to hear about breaking news, as it happens. You’ll get alerts delivered directly to your inbox each time something noteworthy happens in the Military community.
By giving us your email, you are opting in to our Newsletter: Know all the coolest acronyms
The simulator was created in partnership with industry by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Aviation and Missile Center — formerly the U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center. Gayler confirmed that the Aviation and Missile Center launched a contracting vehicle for the effort and is acting as the systems integrator, but refrained from naming companies supporting the development.
“This is only a pilot program,” he said. “Once we decide that this has great value, then we’ll widen the aperture a little bit. We would certainly bring more [systems] here.”
Kicking off in April, the pilot program will involve a full flight school class of 48 students. Half of those students will serve as a control group, going through normal flight school training curriculum of 32 live-flight hours. A second group of 12 students will get 18.7 live-flight hours, and a third group of 12 students will get 11 hours of live-flight time. But the second and third groups will get 40 percent and 60 percent more total flight time, respectively, in terms of the combined flight, virtual reality and simulation.
“What we’re trying to do is achieve the right mix of live and virtual [training] to get a higher-quality aviator,” Chasteen said, adding that the program was developed with a great deal of input from the Air Force, which relies more heavily on simulators for pilot training. “We believe, by giving a student more repetitions and base tasks and fundamentals, that by the time they get to their combat aircraft, they’re going to be a higher-quality aviator, even though they got less time in an actual aircraft.”
Once that initial phase of flight school is completed, students will continue through the curriculum without virtual reality, compared to the control group in the same class. Ultimately, they will all perform a check ride in the actual aircraft, which will determine capability. That first phase of the pilot program will take nine weeks. Two additional classes will then go through the same program.
“We’re going to develop lessons learned that we find as we go,” Chasteen said. “We believe by the time we get to the end of that, we’re going to have a very good idea of where we need to go from here.”