New digital applications are rapidly shaping fighter pilot training. LVC technology can be used to link Air Force flight simulators, computer-generated forces and training aircraft to the same combat exercise. In the future, the OPAS system developed by Patria will enable the measuring of the stress level and cognitive workload experienced by pilot trainees.

Text: Tuomas Lehtonen  Photos: Tommi Anttonen

Pilot Performance Jussi Virtanen, Teemu Mahlamäki
Jussi Virtanen and Teemu Mahlamäki at a media event organised in Tikkakoski in December 2020.

Jari-Matti Taskinen, Development Manager, Military Pilot Training at Patria, and Jussi Virtanen, Business Development Director at Patria Aviation Oy, are witnessing how digitalisation is changing the competence requirements for fighter pilots.

“As technology develops, the relationship between man and machine changes. Focus of most relevant skill sets are shifting from motoric skills towards cognitive skills. They must be able to manage different systems, detect and analyse essential elements, and make right decisions at a quick pace. Human-machine cooperation determines what kind of results are achieved,” Taskinen says.

As the skills required of pilots change, training must also be renewed. The Finnish Air Force and Patria have been collaborating for decades to develop pilot training and especially flight training equipment. Thanks to the cooperation, the Finnish Air Force has gained access to advanced simulators, information systems and modernised jet trainers, among other things.

LVC brings simulators and aircraft into the same 'airspace'

Pilot performance Martti Wallin
Martti Wallin, President of Aviation business unit tests his pilot skills.

In 2018, the Air Force Academy at Tikkakoski deployed the Hawk Link system developed by Patria, which enables the integration of the real and virtual worlds in flight training. Hawk Link is a Live, Virtual, Constructive (LVC) system that brings various sensor simulations to Hawk jet trainers and enables the use of genuine and artificial targets in combat exercises.

“The Hawk Link creates a connection between the aircraft and simulators participating in the exercise. On the aircraft or simulator displays, the pilots can see the positions of other aircraft, and, for example, simulated enemy aircraft can be added to the exercise,” Virtanen says.

All combat exercise data – such as location data of the aircraft, the number of missiles fired and hit accuracy – are stored in the Tactical Aircrew Debriefing System (TADS) developed by Patria. The recorded data is reviewed in detail after each flight in debriefing sessions attended by everyone involved in the exercise.

OPAS reveals the cognitive workload level of the pilot

Patria has also developed a unique Operator Performance Analytics System (OPAS) to monitor the stress level and cognitive load of pilot trainees during exercise. OPAS system is being tested  in simulator use, but in the future the application will also be available for aircraft training.

“The system provides the instructor with information on the pilot's cognitive workload. Based on this information, the level of complexity of the ongoing exercise can be increased or lowered, for example, by adding or removing targets. Learning is more effective when the difficulty of the task is at an optimal level. The OPAS system can also be used for assessing and analyse capabilities and monitoring the development of pilot trainees. The OPAS system is also ideal for use in other fields of activity, such as the education sector or safety critical sectors,” Virtanen says.

The OPAS system collects and analyses data using psychophysiological measurements. According to Taskinen, during the pilot phase of the project the elements measured include the pilot's heart rate variability, skin conductivity and eye movements. In the future, the number of sensors, algorithms and inputs to be measures can be increased as needed. The software algorithms provide an estimate of the pilot's cognitive workload and stress levels in the teacher's user interface in the form of clear graphs.

Positive experiences from the pilot project

Pilot performance

Teemu Mahlamäki, Executive Officer of Fighter Squadron 41 of the Air Force Academy, Finnish Air Force, has had a chance to test the OPAS system in the Air Force Academy Hawk anniversary event. He is really looking forward to getting the system to pilot production as well.

According to Mahlamäki, at the moment, the requirements specification of flight training programmes and the tailoring of the training level for each pilot trainee are based purely on the flight instructor’s personal professional skills and the learning results achieved. He believes that the OPAS system will add a useful tool to the flight instructor’s toolbox.

“From the Air Force's point of view, the OPAS system is an interesting entity that can enable the achievement of best possible learning outcomes. As a new training group is doing simulator tests, the OPAS system can be used for assessing their personal cognitive load and stress level. These assessments will then serve as a basis for planning the training programme. The personal OPAS results obtained from simulator tests may be used for establishing individual testing sets for pilot training. In addition, it is also possible to adjust the level of training in real time in a flight training situation,” Mahlamäki says.

Virtual headset provides new opportunities for pilot training

Varjo virtual and mixed reality headset provides an effective addition to the LVC and simulator training of military pilots. The headset can also be used for collecting data on eye movements and reactions for Patria's OPAS system.

Varjo released its first XR headset featuring the world's best resolution in 2019, and in December 2020 the company released an updated XR-3 version of the headset. Seppo Aaltonen, Chief Commercial Officer of Varjo, says that the resolution of the new headset, standing currently at 70 PPD, is significantly higher than that of the first-generation version; it allows the pilot to distinguish even the smallest details in the cockpit. The headset’s field of vision has increased by 40 per cent, and the headset is now 40 per cent lighter. Furthermore, the XR-3 headset has latency of less than 20 ms, which represents the cutting edge in XR technology worldwide and provides completely new opportunities for pilot training.