Glass Cockpits: New Training
Jul 15, 2007

Until a few years ago major air forces worldwide trained their jet pilots on basic and advanced training aircraft equipped with analogue cockpits. As a result, a widening technology gap has developed between Advanced Jet Training (AJT) aircraft of the 1970’s (such as BAE Hawk TMk1, Aero L39 Albatross and Dassault Alphajet) and modern front-line combat aircraft.

Most of the current generation of front-line aircraft (and all of those about to enter service), are equipped with a full glass cockpit, man-machine interface, which includes, as a minimum, a Head up Display (HUD), Multi Function Displays (MFDs) and Hands on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) controls.

Failure to provide advanced training on a glass cockpit equipped trainer has tended to shift the fast jet training load onto two-seat front-line aircraft (such as F-16D, Harrier T10 and Mig 29UB) belonging to Operational Conversion Units, where the flying hours are far more expensive and the aircraft are less readily available. Not only does this represent a costly misuse of front-line aircraft, but student confidence may suffer and the failure of a student to convert to glass cockpit technology will result in the loss of a very expensive investment at a late stage in training.

This problem has been recognized and a transformation in military flying training is currently taking place. Many nations have either invested in upgrade programmes to their existing fleet of trainers or are procuring a new generation of training aircraft already fitted with glass cockpits.

Basic Training has traditionally been undertaken in analogue equipped trainers, but with a new generation of glass cockpit turboprop trainers (for example the Embraer 314 Super-Tucano, Pilatus PC-21, KAI KT-1C or Hawker Beechcraft T-6B), with digital engine controls giving basic jet-like performance, there has been a realization that a single platform can ­perform Basic, and a large proportion of Advanced Training (at approximately 1/3 to 1/6 the cost of flying an Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT)), taking the student from his first dual training sortie right through to the point that he is ready to sit in an AJT. The remaining high-performance jet phase of Advanced Training can now be combined on the same platform as the Lead-in Fighter Trainer (LIFT or AJT/LIFT).

There is an alternative view that ‘all-through jet training’ is an advantage. For example, Alenia Aermacchi  has responded with their M-311 glass cockpit turbofan Basic Jet Trainer. Whichever path is ­chosen, this new training concept will ensure that the student becomes familiar with glass cockpit management and HOTAS from ‘day one’ of the training course (see chart).

Glass cockpit technology provides an improved training environment with the ability to train the student pilot in head-up flying and systems management techniques by day, by night and under night vision situations. The specific skills and benefits that can be attained at Basic Training level with a glass cockpit can be summarized as follows:

  • Use of MFDs, button punching, menu searches, selection and use of appropriate displays;
  • The use of HUD and selection of appropriate modes using an Up Front Control Panel (UFCP). The instructor will usually monitor the HUD in a HUD repeater display;
  • Flight by reference to Angle of Attack and Velocity Vector (also known as a Flight Path Marker (FPM));
  • Modern navigation techniques using INS and GPS;
  • Better lookout and increased flight safety (especially at low level); and
  • Digital Mission recording, debriefing and digital mission planning.

Importantly, there are also subtle training advantages. A glass cockpit permits the flying instructor or weapons instructor to display progressively increasing amounts of data in the MFDs and HUD, in order to match the individual student’s stage of training and rate of progress. There is considerable flexibility in the amount of information that can be displayed, which is not the case with instruction in an ­analogue cockpit where ‘you get what you see.’ This should lead to washout of unsuitable students earlier in the process, combined with a higher overall flying training pass rate. With the current late assessment of pilot capability in a glass cockpit environment there is an understandable reluctance to terminate training of a marginal student due to the considerable investment already spent in training. This can lead to reduced standards, an expensive late wash-out or additional expensive flying hours. The use of Computer Based Training (CBT) enables the student to rehearse the next sortie on a laptop simulation, similar to an advanced commercial PC aircraft simulation game. Technical manuals and student instructional précis can also be put on a CBT database.

Additionally the Glass Cockpit architecture will  allow the Basic Trainer to undertake a large degree of digitally embedded synthetic training (previously the province of armed AJT and LIFT), which includes the following functions:

  • Weapon aiming and delivery using computer generated aiming solutions and the use of HOTAS switches.
  • No-drop bombing simulation and automatic scoring with a reduction in the amount of live weapon drops and associated range costs.
  • Synthetic radar, virtual Electronic Warfare (EW) and embedded air combat manoeuvring instrumentation (EACMI).
  • Mimicry of front-line aircraft symbology and display formats.

Having decided that glass cockpit training is advantageous for Basic Training, why not extend the philosophy further back – to Primary Training Recent advances in general aviation has led to the introduction of light single engine pistons with head-down glass cockpit displays (such as the Cessna 172R and Cirrus SR20).

Raytheon Australia, together with Pacific Aerospace Ltd, have upgraded a venerable CT-4A Airtrainer to CT-4F Glass Cockpit standard, known as the ‘Akala’ or Parrot. In addition to a more powerful 300hp engine, systems and aerodynamic changes, the CT-4F is fitted with three CMC Electronics’ 5x7" MFDs, a stand alone UFCP, an open architecture Mission Computer and an electronic back-up flight instrument. This allows for the removal of all analogue dials and delivers commonality with the proposed replacement RAAF basic trainer, the Hawker Beechcraft T-6B Texan II (also utilizing CMC HUD and displays). The ab initio student will be in a familiar environment when strapping into the T-6B and the complete integrated package of CT-4F, T-6B, simulators and CBT is known as Raytheon’s Evolutionary Military Aircrew Training System (EMATS).

Glass Cockpit Primary training will not be wasted on pilots who convert to transport and rotary training as they will meet digital head-down displays in their front-line platforms.

In conclusion it can be seen that training pilots on non-representative cockpits is wasteful in resources and the earlier glass cockpit training can be downloaded in the training cycle the better. Most major air forces plan to introduce glass cockpit fitted advanced and basic training aircraft. There seems to be no reason why this trend should not be even further backloaded to Primary Trainers (such as the CT-4F).

In an Air Force that is equipped with digital cockpit front-line aircraft, why teach students to fly by an analogue dial at all?
A former Colonel in the UK Royal Marines, Robert Wilsey FRAeS was a Qualified Helicopter Flying Instructor. He works for CMC Electronics Inc., an Esterline company.
© FrontLine Defence 2007