CAE Seeks to Unblock Military Pilot Training Pipeline

With haptic cues from the chair and a virtual-reality headset, CAE’s TRAX Academy concept allows trainees to develop skills at their own pace.

Now the firm is attempting an even more ambitious transformation – turbocharging the training of military pilots by automating some of the more instructor-heavy parts of the process. 

 “The challenges around pilot shortages are many,” says Phil Perey, head of technology within the company’s defense division. “We believe that one of the solution paths to help redress – and perhaps eliminate – pilot shortage is to use new approaches to training delivery.” 

To this end, CAE has developed a training solution it calls the TRAX Academy. 

“‘TRAX’ here stands for ‘training acceleration,’” Perey says. “The TRAX Academy is essentially a continuum of training, through three segments that have always been there. Those are: being able to learn and acquire the knowledge and skills; to be able to practice those skills in a way that the trainee can become proficient; and, finally, to be able to demonstrate or perform those competencies with instructor oversight.” 

The three strands are given different emphasis in the TRAX Academy concept. The first aspect – learning, intended to be adaptable to the circumstances of the individual trainee – is delivered via a tablet or smartphone application. That knowledge begins to be transformed into techniques by watching narrated sequences on a helmet-mounted display.  

“They’re still a spectator,” Perey says, “but they’re seeing the callouts of G or angle of attack that they need as they go through the maneuver. There’s a complete narration, but they’re wearing a headset, so they can visualize: they can look at their wingtips, at their instruments; and you can be sure the student has taken in the physical and technical requirements needed to be successful in conducting a particular maneuver.” 

The Sprint Trainer provides the practice phase of the approach. Sprint is a full-size seat leveraging VR and other technologies to deliver a level of fidelity normally the preserve of high-end simulators, which are significantly more expensive to acquire and to operate.  

“It replicates the full suite of functionality of the aircraft,” Perey says. “The students are sitting in a chair that’s giving them a significant amount of cueing. They have a 20/20 acuity headset; they hear sound; they get vibration from the seat. All these cues immerse them in the environment so they can practice those specific skills at their respective paces.” 

Additionally, the Sprint Trainer integrates what Perey calls a “virtual coach,” derived from CAE’s Rise (real-time insights and standardized evaluations) system. This has been included because many air forces find that a student may lack proficiency in a particular maneuver, but practicing it alone, even in a high-fidelity simulator, will have limited effect if some kind of teaching is not being given as they do so. And if the shortage of pilots is acute, the ability for forces to release frontline pilots to act as instructors is at least as big a challenge. 

The third phase – an exam – is also conducted without requiring the presence of a qualified instructor. The student can choose to take an examination in a given procedure or maneuver: then, Perey says, “the coaching stops; the system assesses you and gives you a grade based on the parameters that various air forces have given us.” 

The system is not intended to take complete newcomers and spit out combat-ready aviators at the other end. Rather, Perey says, TRAX Academy will help streamline the training process, minimize the burden on instructors, and allow students to proceed at their own pace. That pace may actually end up being faster than even an accelerated path in a traditional schoolhouse. 

 “The students are learning on their own,” he points out. “They’re typically quite alpha personalities: they want to be top of their class and progress faster than everybody else, so they’re probably spending more hours on training devices and going through their material than they would have in a standard learning environment. They’re doing this in an environment that’s fundamentally less demanding on instructors. Sure, it saves money – but it saves resources that you just don’t have.”

Angus Batey

Angus Batey has been contributing to various titles within the Aviation Week Network since 2009, reporting on topics ranging from defense and space to business aviation, advanced air mobility and cybersecurity.