With the global threat of bushfires increasing, firefighting agencies need to be able to act with speed and effectiveness. Bushfire simulation in a virtual environment allows local, state or national agencies to stay ahead of the threat, training new personnel and exercising current assets.
Right now, ab-initio training still places a high value of spending time, money and resources to train firefighting air observers in live aircraft. Whilst traditionally this has been the only effective way of training pilots and aircrew, the advancements of simulation are now providing an accessible and cost-effective way to train, qualify and assess applicants without the initial risk of having inexperienced aircrew in a live aircraft as well as the upfront outlay of live aircraft costs.
Through using simulation to expose a new trainee to the stimuli of the aerial firefighting environment, the agency is well placed to hold the power to effectively train the next generation of firefighting air observers and air attack officers through a multitude of scenarios, with the same feeling and effect of a real-life scenario that is not otherwise possible.
In doing so, new trainees can be gradually introduced to new scenarios with each training session focussing on one skill or stimuli (i.e. the correct procedure for talking with a pilot, operating the in-aircraft fire radios etc.) until they are competent and ready to advance to more challenging scenarios.
Simulation provides the ability to quantify performance and automate testing procedures for the specific training tasks. Eye tracking that is built into virtual reality headsets or into a hardware cockpit allows an instructor to see what the trainee is or has been looking at, providing a valuable way to assess and debrief trainees. By giving agencies this unlimited access, through the power of simulation, to recreate bushfire scenarios as well as train and test skill sets, new trainees are better placed to be able to react and perform more effectively in a shorter period.
Traditional vs New reality training
Traditional projection-based cockpit simulators usually require a significant financial outlay and are quite restrictive in that they are generally placed in a fixed location with the primarily focus on training pilots; which is not the most effective or transferable way to train aircrewmen or ground-based command centre personnel. A strong advantage of virtual reality is that it has the flexibility of being able to train a multiple of specialist roles from the same device with minimal hardware investment. These roles include aircrew coordinators, air observers, air attack supervisors, hoist operators, doctors, nurses, SAR and electro-optic equipment operators, etc.
Another advantage is that with the recent advancements in virtual reality, headsets can now allow the immersive environment to be brought to the trainee, bringing the instructor to remote locations with a mobile system to meet a group of students, instead of having to fly and house multiple students to a fixed location.
Traditional hardware cockpits are highly valuable for software application training. Simulator-based iPad app training is highly valuable as the trainee is able to use the exact tablet that they will take into the aircraft with them. While it gives the trainee the practice they need to be able to collect high-quality data in a shorter period of time, it also results in more detailed information for the command centres to make effective decisions in real life scenarios.
Apps like ESRI Collector, Context Camera, and OzRunways are all able to be demonstrated and practised in simulators. Off Planet Simulation strongly believes that all trainees should be made proficient in these soft skills and aircraft software on the ground, before stepping into an aircraft. It should be a classic example of a train in the simulator, validate in the aircraft and new technology has made this possible.
Advancements in night aerial operations
With recent CASA approvals allowing for night-vision-aided operations, agencies need to be capable of adding these more advanced techniques into their current training curriculum. The use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG) and training for their physiological effects are not novel, however, the integration of highly immersive bushfire visuals and fire behaviour brings night vision training to a whole new level.
Agencies have the option of utilising existing NVG assets in projection-based simulators or utilising simulated helmet mounted displays that present a virtual image to the user with miniature OLED displays.
When using an off-the-shelf Virtual Reality headset the trainee will not get the experience of the ergonomics of manually adjusting the NVG helmet mount, battery pack, and optics. However, Off Planet Simulation advocates optioning the use of simulated goggles as it allows for the demonstration of failure modes (i.e. tube failures, edge glow, honeycombing). Simulated NVG visuals can be displayed in a virtual reality headset for a truly low-cost solution that recreates the optical effects of NVG. Additionally, infrared marking devices can also be implemented in the virtual environment to assist with coordination of waterbombing assets.
Recent advances in virtual training and networking now provide the ability to have multiple agencies train in one virtual environment, similar to a military war-games training exercise, allows a cohesive way for multiple ground control centres, air assets and personnel to train in a complex environment in real-time without ever having to be in the same room. Pilots, observers and front-line response personnel experience total scenario immersion with compelling VR or high-quality wrap-around visuals. Ground commanders can exercise communications procedures and coordinate the response in real-time, feeding back into the virtual environment.
Training, rehearsal, and command and control exercises are essential to assure rapid, effective responses. A co-ordinated approach requires a high-fidelity training environment. Recent advances in bushfire simulation brings predictive fire software into the mix. An agencies predictive fire services team can supply data to be integrated into the virtual world. Past fire events can also be replicated in the virtual environment to give a valuable debrief and “lessons learned” training opportunity.
Off Planet Simulation specializes in the design, fabrication, and commissioning of high-fidelity flight training devices and aircrew training systems. The Off Planet Simulation Centre located at the Sunshine Coast Airport, QLD, Australia has three (3) CASA certified Bell 206 Flight Training Devices, state-of-the-art Virtual Reality aircrew training system, and night vision simulators. For more information please contact Off Planet Simulation.
For more information, go to www.offplanetsimulation.com