Virtual Engine trainers bring gaming into the classroom

What would the most comprehensive engine maintenance training look like for you? Perhaps be able to disassemble and reassemble the motor and components? Want to learn how to visually inspect all interior areas for corrosion and damage, including turbine blades and hot areas? Compare components for different model numbers to see differences and determine installation steps? Practicing with the most critical procedures?

FlightSafety’s line of Virtual Engine Trainers lets you do all this and more in a secure, time-saving environment.

“Our Virtual Engine Trainer is a wonderful product for learning everything from the early stages of theory and familiarity through complex maintenance procedures,” said DeWayne Dixon, Regional Director of Training Operations for FlightSafety International. “Our instructors use it for high-level overviews of how a particular engine model works, specific maintenance procedures such as removing a fuel control unit, and even engine and component troubleshooting scenarios. It becomes an indispensable tool.”

Even better than the real thing

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

“The shutdowns of COVID have increased our focus on how to use this 3D modeling in the classroom,” Dixon said. “During COVID – and it’s still an option even now – we delivered LiveLearning courses where customers logged in remotely. Our instructors tried to teach them how the engine works without the physical assets. Using the virtual engine trainers, we were able to customers 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 exposed, essentially floating in a modeled mechanics room as if sitting on an invisible cradle. By using the mouse to rotate the image, the user can see all sides of the motor, even the underside, which would normally be hidden by the mount.

Then the user can start to virtually disassemble the motor using the menu or zoom functions.

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

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

The weight, size, and complexity of a real engine often hinder how much a student can see and do in a given time frame. The Virtual Engine Trainer allows instructors to show internal views of the engine without the time-consuming process of physically removing each part. This allows for scenario-based troubleshooting, such as where compressor blade erosion would be found if an engine ran in a sandstorm, or which areas the technician would need to inspect if there was water in the base causing corrosion.

“We can show a crack or corrosion as it actually looks and measure how long the crack is,” Dixon said. “The technician can take that information, go to the manual and determine if it’s acceptable; or maybe if this part is cracked, determine if there is any other internal damage to the engine. If we do this on a physical part in the center I can’t guarantee that I will have that damage in that bike, but with the virtual trainer we can create these realistic scenarios.”

Virtual Engine trainers available worldwide

FlightSafety has partnered with P&WC for over 10 years to develop, improve and implement advanced training technology for 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. level of trust and protection of P&WC’s intellectual property, something FlightSafety takes seriously.

“After our team receives Pratt and Whitney’s CAD files, we modify them — hundreds of measurements change just a little bit, although no one would know — before putting them into the virtual engine,” Dixon says. “We protect the OEM’s IP to maintain that level of trust. Without the trust between us and the OEM, the virtual trainer will not come to fruition. We are also working with other engine OEMs towards that level of confidence.”

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 specific information for a particular engine model based on the needs of training in 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 build, such as removing a fuel or propeller control unit.

“We’ve had great response from the engineers who have used the virtual trainers, both at the centers and through LiveLearning,” Dixon said. “It is very intuitive and easy to use for the customers after a short introduction. It has also made the instruction more appealing than the typical PowerPoint presentation. It’s like having the asset in your living room.”

No VR glasses needed

Student engagement is especially important during FlightSafety’s LiveLearning courses, where customers receive instructor-led training remotely through online portals. Just as a course at a FlightSafety Learning Center can involve students from an entire country or region, a LiveLearning course can be taken by students from different countries at the same time. In the classroom, the instructor can have students control the virtual trainer, allowing them to practice procedures or conduct a virtual inspection. When included in a LiveLearning session, a Virtual Engine Trainer is generally controlled by the instructor, but control can be passed on to remote students to give them the same kind of experience as in the classroom.

“The Virtual Engine Trainer provides options for both FlightSafety and our customers,” said Dixon. “Some customers want to go back to the learning centers because they have the opportunity to disconnect from the hangar so they can focus on the training. Other companies will want to continue remote training because of budget cuts, travel restrictions or because they simply don’t want their technicians to be away from the facility that long.”

FlightSafety is constantly looking for ways to integrate the technology into the classroom, such as less structured exploration time for students taking 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 that study the sustainability of learning procedures with the virtual trainer versus the use of virtual reality glasses,” says Dixon. “Certain procedures may be better suited to using VR goggles and gloves, so you can get physical feedback, such as when a part is too heavy to be moved or picked up with one hand.”

Virtual trainers enable FSI to deliver superior engine maintenance training

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

“As this program evolves and we add more functionality, we are constantly looking for ways to make the most of this technology in the classroom,” said Dixon. “We are already reaching out to other engine OEMs and will continue to expand our virtual maintenance training offerings as technology and confidence allow.”

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