Virtual Engine Trainers Bring Gaming into the Classroom

What would the most comprehensive engine maintenance training look like to you? Perhaps being able to disassemble and reassemble the engine and components? Learning how to visually inspect all interior areas for corrosion and damage, including turbine blades and hot sections? Comparing components for various model numbers to see differences and determine installation steps? Practicing the most critical procedures?

FlightSafety’s series of Virtual Engine Trainers allows you to do all this and more in a safe, time-effective environment.

“Our Virtual Engine Trainer is a wonderful product for teaching everything from the early stages of theory and familiarization all the way through complex maintenance procedures,” said DeWayne Dixon, Regional Director of Training Operations for FlightSafety International. “Our instructors are using it for high-level overviews on how a particular engine model operates, specific maintenance procedures such as removing a fuel-control unit, and even engine and component troubleshooting scenarios. It’s becoming an indispensable tool. ”

Even Better than the Real Thing

FlightSafety offers Virtual Engine Trainers for various Pratt & Whitney Canada engines, including several models of the PT6 turboprop, PW200 turboshaft (helicopter), and PW300 turbofan. Each Virtual Engine Trainer consists of 3-D models of the specific engine and its components in a server-based software platform that instructors can access in the FlightSafety classroom.

“The COVID shutdowns heightened our attention to how this 3-D modeling could be leveraged in the classroom,” said Dixon. Throughout COVID — and it’s still an option even now — we were running LiveLearning courses where clients logged in remotely. Our instructors were trying to teach them how the engine works without the physical asset. Using the virtual engine trainers allowed clients to see and interact with the engine without being in a FlightSafety Learning Center. ”

When a Virtual Engine Trainer is first opened, the entire engine is available for view, essentially floating in a modeled mechanics’ bay as if sitting on an invisible cradle. Using the mouse to rotate the view, the user can look at all sides of the engine, even the underside, which would normally be hidden by the cradle.

Next, the user can begin virtually disassembling the engine using the menu or zoom functions.

Each Virtual Engine Trainer starts out as a set of 3-D models obtained from the engine manufacturer. Advanced virtual technology of the type found in gaming engines allows the models to be combined into a completed engine, which can then be disassembled and reassembled according to inputs from the user. The gaming engine also allows the model to be manipulated on multiple axes, which makes it possible for the engine or component to be viewed in any position for detailed inspection.

“It’s a perfect tool for teaching inspections because we can introduce damage to the internals of the engine without damaging a physical engine or hoping that the right damage exists on the physical asset,” said Dixon. “So, if we’re doing a borescope inspection, we can use that to find that corrosion and provide a true picture of what it would look like and where it would be found.”

The weight, bulkiness, and complexity of a real engine often inhibits how much a student can see and do in a particular timeframe. The Virtual Engine Trainer allows instructors to show internal views of the engine without the time-consuming process of physically removing each component. This allows for scenario-based troubleshooting, such as where compressor blade erosion would be found if an engine was operating in a sandstorm, or what areas the technician should inspect if water was sitting in the base causing corrosion.

“We can show a crack or corrosion as what it actually looks like and measure how long the crack is,” said Dixon. “The technician can take that information, go to the manual, and determine whether it’s acceptable; or perhaps if this component is cracked, determine whether there is other internal damage to the engine. If we’re doing this on a physical asset at the center, I can not guarantee that I have that damage inside of that engine, but with the virtual trainer we can create these realistic scenarios. ”

Virtual Engine Trainers Available Worldwide

FlightSafety has been working with P&WC for more than 10 years to develop, improve, and implement cutting-edge training technology to aviation maintenance professionals around the world. The first Virtual Engine Trainer — a PT6 variant — became operational in 2015, and a borescope trainer for that engine was launched in 2017. Obtaining the computer-aided drafting (CAD) files directly from the OEM to build each Virtual Engine Trainer requires a high level of trust, and safeguarding of P & WC’s intellectual property which is something that FlightSafety takes seriously.

“After our team receives the CAD files from Pratt and Whitney, we modify them — changing hundreds of measurements just slightly, although no one would know it — before they’re put into the virtual engine,” Dixon said. “We protect the OEM’s IP to maintain that level of trust. Without the trust between us and the OEM, the virtual trainer does not get completed. We’re working towards that level of trust with other engine OEMs as well. ”

Ten Virtual Engine Trainers representing six models of PT6 turboprops and four models of turboshaft / turbofan engines have been installed at 13 FSI locations worldwide, although not all locations have access to all Virtual Engine Trainers. Each Virtual Engine Trainer provides specifics for a particular engine model based on the needs of the training course at that facility, and some provide specific training, such as borescope inspection. Each Virtual Engine Trainer also requires its own set of tasks or procedures to be built, such as removing a fuel or propeller control unit.

“We’ve had great responses from the technicians who have used the virtual trainers both in the centers and through LiveLearning,” Dixon said. “It’s very intuitive and easy for the clients to use after a bit of an introduction. It’s also made the instruction more engaging than the typical PowerPoint presentation. It’s like having the asset in your living room. ”

No VR Goggles Needed

Student engagement is especially important during FlightSafety’s LiveLearning courses, in which clients attend instructor-led training remotely through online portals. Just as a course at a FlightSafety Learning Center may include students from all over a country or region, a LiveLearning course may be attended by students from various countries at the same time. In the classroom, the instructor can allow students to control the virtual trainer allowing them to practice procedures or virtually perform an inspection. When incorporated into a LiveLearning session, a Virtual Engine Trainer is generally controlled by the instructor, but control can be passed to students attending remotely to give them the same kind of experience as in the classroom.

“The Virtual Engine Trainer provides options for both FlightSafety and our clients,” Dixon said. “Some clients want to be back in the Learning Centers because they get a chance to disconnect from the hangar so they can concentrate on training. Other companies will want to continue remote training because of budgetary cuts, travel restrictions, or just not wanting their technicians to be away from the facility for so long. ”

FlightSafety is continuously looking for ways to incorporate the technology into the classroom, such as allowing less-structured exploratory time for students attending a class at a Learning Center. They are also considering the possibility of adding virtual reality (VR) components for specific procedures.

“We’re working with universities studying the retainability of learning procedures with the virtual trainer versus using virtual-reality goggles,” said Dixon. “Certain procedures might be better suited to using VR goggles and gloves so you can get the physical feedback, such as when a component is too heavy to be moved or picked up with one hand.”

Virtual Trainers Allow FSI to Deliver Superior Engine Maintenance Training

FlightSafety has been a leader in flight training simulation for more than 70 years, so it should come as no surprise that it should carry this distinction over to maintenance training as well. In its readers’ survey, Aviation International News named FlightSafety’s Virtual Engine Trainer as a 2021 Top Flight Award winner in Maintenance Innovation.

“As this program evolves and we add more functionality, we continuously look for ways to make the best use of this technology in the classroom,” said Dixon. “We’re already reaching out to other engine OEMs and will continue to expand our virtual maintenance training offerings as the technology and trust allow.”

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