KCRG-TV: UI Research Jets Could Hold Key to Future of Military Flight Training
By Mark Carlson
The University of Iowa Operator Performance Laboratory's two Czech L-29 Delf'n
jets fly over Iowa City Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. The University of Iowa has
teamed up with researchers at Rockwell Collins on a state of the art mission
to improve flight simulators, make pilot training more effective, and reduce
costs. (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)
IOWA CITY, Iowa — If you’ve ever seen a pair of yellow fighter jets buzzing across Johnson County, you probably didn’t realize it, but you were witness to one of the most highly sophisticated research missions in the world.
The University of Iowa has teamed up with researchers at Rockwell Collins on a state of the art mission to reduce military spending, and that’s only part of it. The research, which has been funded by sources that include the Department of Defense, started a few years ago at UI’s Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL), which is based at the Iowa City Municipal Airport.
“It takes us many hours of preparation to go up for one flight,” said Dr. Tom “Mach” Schnell, who founded the lab in 1998. “We come back with so much data, and it takes us a long time to go back through and analyze the data.” Schnell, an associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and his team have morphed two L-29 jets, a popular plane during the Cold War era, into flying flight simulators. Monitors onboard the planes allow pilots to fight virtual enemies while flying the aircrafts through Iowa.
WATCH: Air Combat Over Eastern Iowa
Rockwell Collins provides the University with data links, which sync the jets to the simulators, allowing pilots on the ground to control the virtual enemy. “By combining the live components with the virtual components we take the best of both worlds,” said Alex Postnikov, Principal Engineering Manager at Rockwell Collins Advanced Technology Center. “We are able to maintain a high quality of training and at the same time reduce the cost of the overall system.”
Data collected by monitoring brain activity during the missions allow Schnell’s team to get inside the mind of a pilot involved in a combat mission. “They’ll learn more quickly how to deal with the fog of war,” Schnell said. “Using the data we can figure out how hard (the pilot) is working while (the pilot) is doing the task in a real airplane.” The process, known as Live Virtual Constructive, could someday change how the military trains pilots. It also shows researchers how machine and humans interact in the real world.
Since the OPL was founded, Schnell has brought in 150 research projects, funded by both government and industry sources, making the lab completely externally funded. OPL researchers also study ground transportation issues among various other projects.