SimuFlite’s Simfinity may offer Web-based pilot training soon

 - October 16, 2006, 6:18 AM

With two major players in the field of simulator training for business aviation, competition for a larger share of the market is a constant, and innovation has driven both CAE SimuFlite and FlightSafety International to seek the advantage by continually upgrading and improving their respective curricula and systems.

The latest volley from SimuFlite in the battle for market superiority is the Simfinity suite of products for several of the company’s aircraft-specific curricula. The system, designed to integrate theoretical knowledge with practical application in both flight crew and maintenance courses, uses real-time simulation to ensure that its response aligns with an aircraft’s operational characteristics to produce a seamless transition from ground school to full simulator training. In addition, eventually the service will be accessible to customers anywhere, any time.

SimuFlite unveiled the program at last year’s NBAA Convention, and customers who have used it in preview are enthusiastic about its potential.

SimuFlite developed the program in 2001 to complement its Airbus A320 training by bringing the functions of the simulator into the classroom. Once the system was up and running, the company expanded the concept to include business aircraft.

Simfinity integrates easily with the company’s simulators; it uses the codes and software from the company’s simulators so information from the simulators can be downloaded onto a laptop and used in the classroom, at clients’ facilities or, soon, via the Internet.

The company says that the program’s interactive abilities and the depth of information it includes enhance its goal of increased crew preparedness for task-oriented or operational learning.

From the customer’s point of view, the program offers some other advantages as well. Crews undergoing either initial or recurrent training can be trained more quickly and thoroughly without a lot of expensive simulator time. And they can use the program to prepare for and be debriefed on actual simulator training sessions at SimuFlite.

“I envision the use of this system as a preparation of our pilots for initial or recurrent training,” said John Larson, director of flight operations for Seattle-based discount retailer Costco.

Costco has 11 pilots and operates a Gulfstream V and Challenger 604 on the West Coast and a Citation Ultra in Washington, D.C. Larson says the company is working toward doing as much in-house training on piloting skills and maintenance as possible.

Other SimuFlite clients echo that sentiment. John Hatfield, director of operations at FlightWorks, an Atlanta-based charter management company that operates 22 aircraft and employs 62 pilots, said Simfinity is an enhancement tool rather than a replacement for any other training discipline.

“It’s a major platform for the recurrent training program,” he said. “All of our GIV pilots have been through Simfinity training, and it’s particularly valuable for maintenance and troubleshooting. What I found beneficial in class was the environment to see diagrams and schematics while discerning malfunctions.”

The business benefit, Hatfield continued, is the system’s potential to create in-house training that can save time and money, and manufacturers’ procedural changes that can be dealt with quickly, efficiently and, in his opinion, with more comprehension.

A Four-step Training Process

For both flight crew and maintenance training courses, Simfinity uses four tools: the level-D simulator, an interactive classroom, the integrated procedures trainer (IPT) and an Internet-based tool such as virtual simulator (VSIM), virtual system trainer or simulator-based courseware–all of which use the same simulation found in SimuFlite’s level-D simulators.

“At each phase, the tools and the look are the same,” explained Ned Carlson, SimuFlite national sales manager. He continued, “Because what we present in the classroom is in a cockpit perspective, we can practice normal and abnormal procedures, then take it to the next step–the integrated procedures trainer–and reinforce the training. The result is that even during initial training, instead of one- to two-hour sessions, pilots can learn to go through the checklist in half an hour.”

In classroom sessions, the computer-generated VSIM function is displayed on multiple projection screens that include the instrument panel alongside schematic diagrams of systems. When the instructor selects a command on the panel projection, it activates the appropriate lights, annunciator panels and gauges.

On the adjacent screen, the corresponding system graphic animates to show what is happening in systems such as fuel, hydraulic or electrical, providing cause-and-effect lessons about both the procedures and the systems. In addition, the operator can use a third screen to conduct a virtual tour through systems and structures of the aircraft using digital photography that provides many viewing angles.

During normal and abnormal procedures exercises, the instructor can key projections of an aircraft’s minimum equipment list and operating limitations. Since the event happens in real time, the simulator enforces operational flight limits. As an example, SimuFlite instructor Steve Moody recalled that once he forgot to deactivate the VISM during a break, and when he returned to the classroom he discovered that the airplane had run out of fuel and crashed.

The next level of the Simfinity program is a session in a model-specific interactive procedures trainer, a flight-panel simulator with multiple screens representing panel segments and switch panels. The IPT panel has a touch screen so users can practice switch placement and accomplish muscle-memory training.

Coming to Your Computer

The fourth segment of Simfinity–Web-based capability–is what SimuFlite considers its star attraction, as well as its competitive edge in the flight-training world. The capability will give SimuFlite customers free play of simulators and simulation-based course- ware on the Internet, allowing review, practice and self-paced training. It will feature the same programs and graphics that appear in the classroom, the IPT and the level-D simulator.

The virtual simulator is a Web-based program with the functions of a full flight simulator in which most cockpit procedures can be performed. It can display panels and instruments and save and recall layouts. It also includes a library of malfunctions and active schematics interacting real-time.

In addition to its value for procedures training, the Web-based program could allow pilots to practice descents, approaches and departures from the airports from which they will be operating.

CAE has laid the basic groundwork for the Internet program, but the product is not yet on the market. Company officials estimate that it will be available–to SimuFlite customers–later this year.

The Simfinity pilot and maintenance programs can be adapted to any CAE-manufactured simulator. Curricula are currently being offered for the Gulfstream IV and V, Citation X, Falcon 2000, Embraer Legacy and Boeing Business Jet. Courses for the Hawker 800XP and Falcon 900B/EX, 2000EX and 7X will be added throughout the year.

Training Possibilities

As the CAE Simfinity line evolves, the training curriculum that pilots undergo becomes more operationally oriented, noted Jeff Roberts, CAE president for civil simulation and training. “The result is better-prepared pilots who have a more thorough understanding of the aircraft because they were fully immersed in the cockpit environment early in the training process.”

The possibilities are endless, said Costco’s Larson. “We make seven or eight overseas trips per year, and hopefully we can use the FMS for IS-BAO international standards certification training, radar referencing and offset practice descents into simulations of our actual destinations.”

So far, SimuFlite customers have given the new training process rave reviews. In the arena of competitive business, however, nothing remains static, and if the technological evolution continues at its current pace, business aviation will be the beneficiary.