WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Air Force looks increasingly toward virtual reality for speeding up and cutting the cost of pilot training, Canadian defense firm CAE is stepping forward with own courseware and virtual reality system with the hopes of attracting interest from the U.S. and international militaries.
CAE will debut its CAE TRAX Academy curriculum and Sprint Virtual Reality trainer this week at the Interservice/Industry, Training, Simulation and Education Conference. Throughout the show, the company plans to conduct T-6 flight demonstrations using both products.
CAE was inspired by the U.S. Air Force’s Pilot Training Next program, which uses virtual reality and other cutting-edge simulation technologies to immerse new pilots in flight training, allowing airment to move more quickly and effectively through training.
But CAE is hoping to build on the principles of Pilot Training Next and package it to be purchased by the U.S. Air Force and international militaries, said Phillipe Perey, the head of technology for CAE’s defense business.
“With Pilot Training Next, everyone is looking with big eyes saying, ‘Wow, oh wow,’ but [some generals] are sort of like, ‘Would you really embrace this and do that for your entire air force?’” he said. “So perhaps this is a way of taking the great mission of Pilot Training Next and bringing into that environment with many of the key capabilities that customers have been used to, [such as] true aircraft simulation and many other aspects like a force-feedback stick.”
All of the Sprint virtual reality trainer’s hardware — including the Varjo VR-2 headset — are commercial off-the-shelf products and can be modified or swapped with a different device to meet the customer’s needs. The real value, Perey said, is the software and courseware of TRAXX Academy, in which students progress from mobile apps and VR trainers to a higher fidelity flight simulator.
“I think it really drives efficiencies at two levels. One, it reduces costs because the students in there are able to progress at their own pace. Them being alpha personalities; they don’t want to be average. They want to be top of class, and they will see how other students are performing and they will be able to pick up their pace,” he said, adding that a six month class could take four months or less to complete if students are driven to complete the coursework.
Secondly, the use of self-paced tools and virtual instructors decreases the need for human instructors that could be filling other needed functions within an air force, Perey said.
In developing the Sprint VR trainer, CAE started with same kit as used in the Pilot Training Next program, and tweaked it to create “a better self-paced learning environment," he said.
CAE made a number of adjustments: Using the same software on the virtual reality trainer as the full flight simulator, substituting a joystick that better simulates G forces, and adding haptics so that pilots can feel vibration or other sensory feedback that they would normally expect while operating the aircraft.
Perey said CAE is looking forward to briefing the U.S. Air Force on TRAXX Academy and the Sprint VR trainer during I/ITSEC and getting officials’ feedback.
“That’s really the priority now in the next coming months, is to build out these devices, get them in the customer’s hands, get their feedback and develop a solution that is tailored to their particular training needs,” he said.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.