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Air Force Test Pilot School Develops UAS Standards with VR-Vantage IG

In a recent interview, we got a chance to catch up with Jay Kemper, Senior Software Engineer at Calspan. We discussed how MÄK’s VR-Vantage IG is used by the Air Force test Pilot School and what they are learning using the VR-Vantage product.

“MÄK supports the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB with VR-Vantage IG; an image generator product.  VR-Vantage IG has been used in the Flight Sciences Simulator to train the next generation of test pilots in everything from aerodynamics to flight control design”, said Mr Kemper. Students have a one year curriculum and they run courses starting every six months so there is a six month overlap in the programs. A physics-based flight simulation model is used to learn the effects of aerodynamics. For example, they halve or double the effects of one of the flight controls so the pilot can experience the effects on the performance and maneuverability of the aircraft.

Each class has a capstone event which is a flight test. A flight tests is a controlled experiment where most of the flight conditions are known (controlled) and specific characteristics are varied so they can be measured to collect data and learn about the effects of the variable. The school has moved beyond using the flight tests as just training exercises, now they are also partnering with industry leaders (e.g. Cessna and Lockheed) to perform tests as needed for research and development. It’s a win-win — the school gets to learn flight testing skills and the industry obtains valid flight test data.

“One of the most advanced uses of the simulator is to connect it to a programmable aircraft and use the simulator as a ground cockpit”, said Mr Kemper. Calspan is studying issues with unmanned aircraft systems, e.g. the effects of delays in satellite communication relays. The Calspan test aircraft is a Learjet 25 with a four man crew. The aircraft has a programmable flight control system, enabling the crew to get the plane into a controlled situation, then turn control over to the ground station to carry out the test. The ground control station can land the Learjet while the crew stands by with emergency override control in case anything goes wrong. “VR-Vantage uses the data from the aircraft to generate the scenes of the terrain to a very high degree of accuracy, allowing for an aircraft to be landed with no video stream”, said Mr Kemper. The aircraft sends position, orientation, and status data to the ground station using a C-Band radio, and Calspan can get update rates up to 60 Hz. The terrain database was built by AFRL using TerraVista (TerraPage format).

Calspan is working with the UAS community to help set standards for how to test UAS as simulation is always an integral part of flight testing. The flight test is the important part because the simulation can remove some, but not all doubt. By using the “Workload BuildUp Approach”, simulation can be used to run many iterations and flush out problems.

When asked about MÄK's support, Mr Kemper said, “The support MÄK gives is second to none, response time of its salespersons and support has been fantastic.  They have gone above and beyond to facilitate their products to fit our needs, from getting licenses to product to plugin support.  I’ve even asked about how to perform a certain task in a plugin, and the support responded with a full code that I could just drop in and build!” 

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