‘You can’t simulate fear’


From pilot training to engineering, virtual reality touches every aspect of skills acquisition in business aviation. Since at least the 1940s, pilots have not needed to sit in cockpits to hone their flying skills. Covid-19 has hastened the speed of this transition from face-to-face learning to virtual or augmented reality training.

This week Garmin became the latest aviation business to beef up its online training. From now until June 2021, all pilot training is to be conducted in an entirely virtual learning format. Dispensing with worries about travel and Covid-secure social distancing, a new virtual learning environment will help pilots acquire proficiency in using Garmin avionics using scenario-based training. In addition, monthly webinars will help students explore avionics setups, flight planning, navigation and other features.

Garmin is part of a long and illustrious list of business aviation firms who rely on the latest technology to pass on skills from one generation to the next. Earlier this year, Rolls-Royce launched a remote training programme using virtual reality to help engineers familiarise themselves with the Rolls-Royce BR725 engine that powers Gulfstream’s flagship G650 range. So good is the virtual reality technology, students can read the serial number on the fan blades, Rolls-Royce told Corporate Jet Investor.

300 to 400 technicians a year

Gulfstream, which hires about 300 to 400 technicians a year, has even invested in an on-the-job training centre with laboratories and a simulated service centre where students can practice what they have learnt in a supported environment.

Derek Zimmerman, Gulfstream’s President, Product Support, told Corporate Jet Investor’s Miami 2019 conference: “This enables students to work on our assets in a safe space and to practice things repeatedly. And there is no pressure from a customer who wants their airplane back or worries about the quality of the work they are doing.”

Dual engine-flameout

But sometimes pressure is the point – at least for pilot training. Earlier this month, the National Business Aviation Association made the inaugural NBAA Above and Beyond Airmanship Award to Bruce Monnier and Gerald Downs. This was in recognition of their dead-stick landing of a Cessna Citation II in Savannah, Georgia, following a diesel exhaust fluid (DEF)-induced dual engine flameout. Pilot-in-command Monnier had previously practiced a dual engine-flameout with spare simulator time.

That proved a key factor. But, more important was the pair’s ability to apply what they had learnt in the comfort and safety of the simulator to one of the most stressful situations imaginable – a double engine failure. Aerospace and science journalist Miles O’Brien even termed it: “Business aviation’s version of Miracle on the Hudson”.

As a chief flying instructor (and former wartime de Havilland Mosquito pilot) once told me: “Mike, simulator training is all very well. But you can’t simulate fear.”

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