A new EU-funded project will help to improve air safety by training pilots to deal with hazardous situations and extreme air conditions and studying how they become disoriented during dangerous situations while in flight.
The SUPRA (‘Simulation of upset recovery in aviation’) project, funded at EUR 3.7 million under the Transport Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), is a consortium of nine scientific research institutes and industrial concerns coordinated by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) which will provide the use of two completely new types of flight simulators.
One of the partners, the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, is investigating the motion perception of pilots in extreme situations and is studying how the brain analyses both balance and visual information in extreme flight conditions.
Pilots already receive a lot of training on flight simulators as well as real aircraft flight training. During training, tricky flight manoeuvres such as take-off and landing are already carried out with flight simulators, but extreme flight situations are much more difficult to carry out tests for.
The SUPRA project, which began in September 2009, is choosing relevant training scenarios for its array of tests and is working in collaboration with professional test pilots to study how pilots perceive aircraft motion during extreme situations and how and why they become disoriented.
The research team is especially interested in interactions between the pilots’ vision and the signals that the brain receives from the inner ear. A robotic arm will be used to expose test pilots to a variety of accelerations while they simultaneously view a computer-generated environment.
By using both visual and balance systems, the tests are intended to ‘trick’ the brain, so the test pilots believe they are actually involved in a flight manoeuvre rather than an experiment. For example, the tests will give pilots the impression of experiencing acceleration exclusively through visual stimulation and not with real motion – the same type of technique that is used in flight simulator models.
Professor Heinrich H. Bülthoff from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, said, ‘In these times of ever increasing mobility, thorough training of new pilots is an important theme. We are pleased that the European Union has provided us with the opportunity to work with an international team to make an important contribution to flight safety by improving pilot training.’
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