LONDON — Israel Aerospace Industries is in talks with organizations worldwide to set up a series of unmanned aerial vehicle training academies.
“We’re looking at a licensing arrangement and we’ve started discussions with academic institutions, but nothing has been finalized yet,” said Nir Tel-Oren, from the Business Development section of IAI Military Aircraft Group supporting the UAS Training & Simulation Directorate in MALAT, IAI’s UAV division.
The academies will offer training on IAI UAVs such as the Heron, Panther and Hunter. This can serve as training for pilots going on to fly those IAI types or as a generic training course, followed by a conversion to another type.
“For a Predator pilot, for example, we would qualify them on a Heron as a generic qualification and then they can transition to the Predator in the operational units,” Tel-Oren said. This qualification process, according to IAI, can be achieved at a lower cost and shorter duration than current methods, increasing the throughput of today’s UAS training facilities.
Initial target customers are likely to be existing users of IAI UAVs. The company plans to offer a range of new, specialist courses, such as those for mission commanders.
“The challenge is to go to other [potential customers] who aren’t using UAVs, either any systems at all, or other [original equipment manufacturers’] equipment,” said Tel-Oren. “For them, we offer this generic approach.”
IAI’s UAS Mission Trainer, an advanced simulator that can be configured for different UAVs and payloads, has been incorporated into the training curriculum to support this approach. The company believes the academy will usher in a new era of training in the sector.
“We’re redefining UAV training. The idea of generic high-end simulation training is a new concept. Cross-platform training and transitioning to another platform is also new,” Tel-Oren said.
IAI can supply both equipment and instructors to an international location. Tel-Oren described it as “a full schoolhouse solution.” However, Tel-Oren said that in some cases, “the customer will want their own instructors, so we will train the trainers.”
IAI has been training customers at a campus in Israel for nearly 40 years but only recently started referring to the site — which the company refers to only as “a secure location near Tel Aviv” — as an academy. It also conducts UAV training flights from Ein Shemer, an army airfield in northern Israel.
With customers increasingly asking for training services, IAI has now decided to develop this into a core business.
Tel-Oren said that since they established the academy, interest has come from around the world. One application came from an engineer in Kazakhstan.
“At first, we thought it was Borat,” Tel-Oren said, referring to the comedy character who purports to come from the Central Asian republic.
Training at the academy progresses from computer-based classroom sessions to simulation-based training, using IAI’s UMT as a Class D-equivalent simulator (one so realistic it counts as live training) and then flying real UAVs. Different courses are staged for pilots, payload specialists and maintenance staff. Around 90 percent of IAI’s UAV training is simulator-based.
The company also has to cope with a wide range of qualifications among trainees. “We have customers who send good fighter pilots, and some people send truck drivers or people who have no skills using a computer mouse,” Tel-Oren said.
This has forced IAI to create a range of screening methods and training curricula to accommodate skill levels. “If you want to qualify someone on flying a multimillion-dollar system, you want to have them qualified and certified for safety as well as the mission,” Tel-Oren said.