WOBURN, Mass., — Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft will soon transform the skies above. But who will fly these new and novel vehicles, what skills will they need, and how will they be trained to operate platforms that feature new levels of automation?
To help answer those questions, Aptima, Inc., has been awarded a contract by the US Air Force to assist the Air Education and Training Command’s Detachment 62 (Det 62) to determine the pilot proficiencies and training needed for eVTOL operators. Det 62 supports the AFWERX Agility Prime program and is charged with developing the curriculum for eVTOL pilots and driving certification standards for an emerging market that is expected to transform civil air mobility and select military missions.
Using simulators of various eVTOL prototypes, Aptima will assess and identify the pilot competencies needed for proficient flight, including how pilots learn and perform on eVTOL platforms that have varying levels of automation. “The learnability study will help us not only understand the baseline pilot skills and competencies needed for proficient eVTOL flight, but also the impact of automation on pilot performance,” said Samantha Emerson, Training, Learning & Readiness Scientist at Aptima, and project manager for the contract.
“Both experienced and novice pilots will bring unique sets of skills and capacities based on their experiences and abilities. We’ll assess how these differences affect performance in aircraft with various levels of automation”.
EVTOL prototypes range from having moderate levels of automation, that still fly like typical aircraft, to higher orders of automation, thus raising questions about the skills and training required to fly them.
In more heavily automated platforms, where pilots mostly control flight settings rather than the aircraft itself, preliminary research suggests experienced pilots tend to have more difficulty adjusting to automation than novice pilots. This is why we will look to see if experienced pilots tend to “overcontrol” of the aircraft.
“Even though a more experienced pilot may possess greater ability in controlling aircraft, not all those skills may be useful or even desired in platforms with more automation and augmentation. In fact, it may require an ‘unlearning’ and re-training of behaviors to prevent interference or conflict with automated operations,” Emerson added.
Aptima, a leader in human-machine teaming and training, will help evaluate how automation affects pilots in different eVTOLs, which existing skills will be transferable, and what new skills will require training.
Applying AFRL Technologies to eVTOL Training
To assess pilot learning and performance, Aptima will use technologies and techniques it has developed with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) over the past 15 years to measure, analyze, understand, and optimize Airman performance. These include the Performance Evaluation Training System, or PETS, which harvests data from simulators to provide objective, system-based measures, and SPOTLITE, Aptima’s handheld tool used by subject matter experts to provide observer-based measures of performance.
“Together, the objective measures from simulators and the subjective measures from what experts recognize as “good flying” produce a more complete picture of pilot learning and performance.” These findings will help Det 62 test and evaluate its eVTOL training assumptions. The findings could also influence how aircraft manufacturers design platforms in the future as we discover which aspects of flight benefit most from improved automation.
This work is funded by the U.S. Air Force via the General Services Administration under Solicitation Number 47QFLA22Q0077 / GSA ID# 47QFLA19K0069-0006 entitled, “AETC Det 62 eVTOL: Agility Prime Training Assessment Technologies for Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) Vehicles,” funded by Col Don “Stryker” Haley and Dr. Stephen B. Ellis, whom the authors wish to thank for their support.