What training will be required for eVTOL pilots and how much human intervention will be needed to operate them ?

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As we stand on the precipice of a revolution in urban air mobility, the emergence of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft is poised to redefine our skies. These futuristic flying machines promise to alleviate urban congestion and transform short-distance travel. However, with this new technology comes a pressing question: How will we train the pilots who will navigate these aerial innovations, and to what extent will human intervention be required in their operation?


The unique challenges of eVTOL piloting

Bridging the gap between traditional aviation and cutting-edge technology

eVTOL aircraft represent a paradigm shift in aviation. Unlike conventional fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, eVTOLs combine elements of both, creating a hybrid that demands a unique skill set from its pilots. This convergence of technologies necessitates a training regimen that is both comprehensive and innovative.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns, associate professor of aviation at the University of Waterloo, notes, “eVTOL pilots will need to master a blend of skills from both fixed-wing and rotary-wing operations, while also adapting to the nuances of electric propulsion systems.”


The pillars of eVTOL pilot training

1. Fundamental aviation knowledge

At its core, eVTOL piloting builds upon the foundation of traditional aviation. Aspiring eVTOL pilots will still need to grasp fundamental concepts such as:

However, these topics will need to be tailored to the specific operational characteristics of eVTOLs.

2. Electric propulsion systems

One of the most significant departures from traditional aviation is the use of electric propulsion in eVTOLs. Pilots will need to develop a deep understanding of:

  • Battery management and limitations
  • Electric motor performance characteristics
  • Energy conservation strategies

Dr. Pat Anderson, director of the Eagle Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, emphasizes, “Understanding the intricacies of electric propulsion is crucial for eVTOL pilots. It’s not just about flying; it’s about optimizing energy usage throughout the flight envelope.”

3. Transition phase mastery

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of eVTOL operation is the transition between vertical and horizontal flight. This phase requires precise control and situational awareness. Training will focus heavily on:

  • Vertical takeoff and landing procedures
  • Transition timing and techniques
  • Emergency procedures during transition

4. Advanced avionics and automation

eVTOLs are expected to incorporate highly advanced avionics and automation systems. Pilots will need to become proficient in:


The role of human intervention

Balancing automation with human oversight

The extent of human intervention required in eVTOL operations is a topic of ongoing debate and research. While these aircraft are designed with high levels of automation, the consensus among aviation experts is that human pilots will remain essential, at least in the near term.

Dr. Ella Atkins, professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, argues, “The complexity of urban air environments and the nascent stage of eVTOL technology necessitate human decision-making capabilities that cannot yet be fully automated.”

Levels of automation

eVTOL operations are likely to incorporate varying levels of automation, ranging from:

  1. Fully manual control: Similar to traditional aircraft, with the pilot in complete control.
  2. Assisted control: Automation aids the pilot in tasks such as stability control and navigation.
  3. Semi-autonomous operation: The aircraft can perform certain flight phases autonomously, with the pilot supervising and ready to intervene.
  4. Fully autonomous operation: The aircraft operates without direct pilot input, but with human oversight for emergency situations.

The training curriculum will need to address each of these scenarios, ensuring pilots are prepared for various levels of human intervention.


Regulatory landscape and certification

Shaping the future of eVTOL pilot licensing

As the eVTOL industry matures, aviation authorities worldwide are grappling with how to regulate this new category of aircraft and their pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are at the forefront of developing certification standards for both eVTOL aircraft and their pilots.

Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society, notes, “We’re likely to see a hybrid certification approach that combines elements of fixed-wing and rotorcraft licensing, with additional requirements specific to eVTOL operations.”

Potential certification requirements may include:

  • A new class of pilot’s license specific to eVTOLs
  • Mandatory simulator training for transition phase operations
  • Ongoing proficiency checks to maintain currency with evolving technology

The training ecosystem

Simulators, virtual reality, and beyond

The training infrastructure for eVTOL pilots is expected to leverage cutting-edge technology to provide comprehensive and cost-effective preparation. Key components of this ecosystem will likely include:

Dr. Tom Prevot, former director of engineering for airspace systems at Uber Elevate (now part of Joby Aviation), suggests, “The integration of AI in training systems will allow for rapid skill acquisition and assessment, crucial for scaling up the eVTOL pilot workforce.”


The human factor in an automated world

Cultivating critical thinking and decision-making skills

While automation will play a significant role in eVTOL operations, the importance of human judgment cannot be overstated. Training programs will need to emphasize:

Dr. Nancy Sliwa, former chief scientist for human factors at NASA, emphasizes, “The eVTOL pilot of the future will be as much a systems manager as a traditional pilot, requiring a unique blend of technical acumen and cognitive flexibility.”


Conclusion: Preparing for takeoff

As we edge closer to the reality of urban air mobility, the training of eVTOL pilots stands as a critical challenge and opportunity. The synthesis of traditional aviation knowledge with cutting-edge technology will forge a new breed of aviator, ready to navigate the complexities of our future skies.

While the exact nature of eVTOL operations and the extent of human intervention required will continue to evolve, one thing is clear: The pilots who will command these revolutionary aircraft will be at the forefront of aviation’s next great leap. Their training will be as innovative as the vehicles they fly, blending the best of human capability with the promise of advanced technology.

As we look to the horizon, the eVTOL pilot training landscape promises to be as dynamic and exciting as the aircraft themselves, heralding a new chapter in the annals of human flight.

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