In their new £2.3m Training and Simulation Integration Facility in Warton, Lancashire, the company is using video gaming technology such as interactive headsets and gloves, and the experience of the Williams F1 team to improve their simulators and help design the planes of the future.
BAE Systems have collaborated with Williams on a next-generation training cockpit, which can be reconfigured to resemble a range of difference jets. “Within seconds you can reconfigure a simulator from a Typhoon, to a Hawk to something else,” BAE Systems’ Aircrew Training Specialist John Hurrell told Professional Engineering.
“Our engineers can dive into the software that sits behind the displays and tweak and add new functionalities very quickly. That’s a fantastic capability to have if you’re thinking about future cockpit designs for example. You can experiment with different ideas and actually test them out in a realistic environment. You’re able to experience operating from a cockpit that might be a number of years away from being produced.”
There’s also an augmented reality environment which allows engineers and pilots to enhance their skills in complex environments. In addition to that, a new network of connected desktop simulators allows pilots and engineers to train together and simulate realistic missions.
“Fundamentally, we’re looking at how we can exploit the use of simulation where it’s practical to do so,” said Hurrell. “Future pilots have grown up with Xbox’s, iPads and VR technology in their homes. They’re naturally more engaged with interactive technologies as opposed to hard copy manuals and classroom based training.”
He said the technology could save time and money too by cutting down on the amount of real aircraft training required. "Taking that one step further, we can link the simulators together to conduct complex mission scenarios that just wouldn’t be possible to conduct in real aircraft. In these scenarios, pilots can be trained to fully exploit the capabilities of the aircraft and concentrate on just that.”
It’s not just for pilots – engineers could also benefit. “We’re focusing heavily on improving training for aircraft maintainers,” said Hurrell. “Already one of our graduates took a training course which took four hours when taught traditionally; put it onto a tablet turning it into a self-paced learning package that can be done in 20 minutes.”
Steve Timms, managing director of defence information, training and services at BAE Systems, said the new facility represented a 'fresh blueprint' for pilot training. “Such an innovative application of virtual reality and simulation technologies offers a wealth of advanced, more affordable techniques for the training of teams on the maintenance and design of advanced fast jets – and this is just the beginning of possible applications for that technology in the sector,” he said.