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New tech meets new demands for UND Aerospace

ALSIM Airliner jet simulator to provide flexibility in preparing student pilots for major airlines

In the next year, UND Commercial Aviation students taking their senior-level jet transition courses will be using this cockpit. UND Aerospace recently acquired the ALSIM Airliner, a simulator that can replicate the experience of flying aircraft models most common in airline travel. Photo courtesy of ALSIM.

At some point in the near future, a graduate of UND’s Commercial Aviation program will go straight to flying for a major airline.

At least, that’s the idea behind the latest career pathway partnership between UND and Frontier Airlines, which was announced last month.

Participants in Frontier’s program who have 1,000 hours of flight time will go directly to the airline for training and operating experience, according to Kent Lovelace, UND’s director of aviation industry relations. That experience combines classroom learning, simulation training and flying Airbus jets under the guidance of a senior pilot.

They’ll gain 40 hours of experience before returning to UND as flight instructors. After a matter of months, those graduates will return to the flight deck for Frontier in a career position.

As demand for the profession increases, the pilot pipeline changes, and the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences is making moves to meet the moment.

As programs such as Frontier’s take hold, more graduates might skip the traditional step of flying for smaller regional airlines to start their careers, according to UND Aerospace. Not only that, but the smaller jets associated with regional airlines – such as the Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet – are aging out of service.

On UND’s side of the equation, they’re bringing in new tools to prepare students for a changing industry. Later this year, the Odegard School will install a new type of simulator and trainer for its senior-level jet transition course – Aviation 480.

Student pilots learning how to operate jet aircraft will have an updated way to prepare for larger passenger aircraft, such as Frontier’s Airbus models.

Better yet, this new device – the ALSIM Airliner – can swap cockpit configurations to match either Airbus or Boeing models, both of which are leading manufacturers of commercial airliners.

“We’ve used a CRJ 200 simulator for more than 20 years,” said Matt Opsahl, assistant chief flight instructor and course manager for the Aviation 480 jet transition course. “It’s a flexible aircraft in terms of what we teach, but we wanted even more flexibility.”

From left to right, Jake Gorham, inside sales for ALSIM North America; Matt Opsahl, assistant chief flight instructor; Chad Martin, project manager and fleet manager at UND Aerospace Foundation and Scott Firsing, head of ALSIM North America. UND’s acquisition of the Airliner model makes it the first of such simulators to be installed in North America. Photo courtesy of ALSIM.

Modernized training

Produced by French simulator manufacturer ALSIM, the Airliner is “generic” in the way it can accurately replicate multiple models of aircraft between Boeing and Airbus, among others.

According to ALSIM, UND’s recent acquisition will mark the first of such simulator models installed in North America.

Chad Martin, project manager and fleet manager at the UND Aerospace Foundation, said ALSIM’s product set itself apart from competitors in the way students can experience different configurations while learning how to fly much larger aircraft than UND’s fleet of single-engine Piper Archers, commonly seen in the skies around Grand Forks.

“As time goes on, and as travel becomes busier, we might see fewer numbers of the smaller jet aircraft,” Martin said. “As aircraft get bigger, we want to prepare for that.”

It might seem like a big jump for UND students to go from training on a 50-passenger jet to a 180-passenger airliner, in simulation, but the systems’ complexities actually are fairly similar, said Lewis Archer, assistant professor of aviation.

“With this new training device, they’re exposed to a more modern generation of those systems and displays,” Archer said. “Again, the fact that we can convert the philosophy between two primary types is a big advantage that we don’t have with the CRJ 200.”

What Archer’s referring to is the difference between Boeing and Airbus. Boeing has what most would recognize as traditional flight controls – with a central yoke as the main control. Airbus is notable for its side-stick control in the same role, which makes for a different experience while maneuvering the aircraft.

Regardless, the aim of the capstone jet transition course remains: understanding the concepts of flying a high-speed jet at high altitude in a crewed environment. With the new generic device, the idea is that graduates can then transition to any jet.

“The CRJ was very specific but also beautiful because our students knew how to start the aircraft on their first day of training at the regional airlines,” Martin said. “But that’s varying more now, so we can’t teach one specific platform as much.”

With updated cockpit controls, dedicated observation seating and an enclosed environment, the Airliner is capable of providing a training experience that sets itself apart from UND’s current simulators. Photo courtesy of ALSIM.

Features physical, virtual

The ALSIM Airliner has other features that have UND Aerospace instructors looking forward to its installation.

The simulator is equipped with three projectors providing a 250-degree view on a curved screen, yet it has a smaller footprint than UND’s current full-size simulators. This could lead to potentially doubling the useful space of UND’s two simulator bays in Ryan Hall.

Also, ALSIM offers an enclosed cockpit environment, which reduces the odds of interrupting others in training. That enclosed concept also comes with set observation seating – a feature that allows for multiple people to take a literal backseat for an instruction session.

“Right now, we have to bring in seats and you’re moving people around while you’re trying to instruct,” Opsahl said. “Now we don’t have to worry about that. Having an observation station is fantastic.”

There is also potential, in collaboration with ALSIM, to develop a virtual reality training environment that can precede training in the Airliner. Students typically go through paper diagrams to understand positions of switches and common procedures, but virtual reality can offer a more in-depth and realistic look at things before going into a physical cockpit.

Flexibility to benefit everybody

Most importantly, for instructors and students alike, the overall upgrade will enhance the most important aspects of the jet transition course.

Crew resource management is a concept that students don’t learn practically until they’re enrolled in Aviation 480, learning to fly jet aircraft, according to Archer. In a nutshell, crew resource management is balancing duties and delegating responsibilities between a captain and first officer.

“Students earning their pilot certifications and building hours are mostly operating in a single-pilot environment,” Archer said. “There’s a flight instructor there most of the time, but the art and science of single-pilot decision-making is using yourself and resources that don’t include another pilot in the airplane.”

In the new simulator, students will gain a realistic sense of crew resource management in a modern cockpit. Opsahl remarked that a side-by-side comparison of cockpits would make the CRJ look like a 1950s Soviet-era aircraft with its columns of knobs and switches.

“Every generation of aircraft has less and less stuff, because of automation,” Opsahl said. “The biggest thing, alongside CRM, is teaching pilots to use automation to their advantage and not have it be a hindrance.”

Though it will take some time to integrate the ALSIM Airliner into UND’s curriculum, people with years of experience such as Martin, Opsahl and Archer see it as a great fit for the Commercial Aviation program.

“We can set it how we want, train how we want, build our own procedures, and that flexibility is going to benefit everybody,” Opsahl said.