We have recently been arranging some training courses for our customers' simulator technicians. Whilst doing so we realised that there were some aspects of training that were worth exploring more on this topic; hence this month we thought we would look at training.
Mechanic, technician or engineer?
Before going forward we need to be clear on our terminology, in particular the use of these titles which can be contentious (we touched on this in a previous blog). So whilst acknowledging that some countries have specific usages for these words for our purposes we are just going to use the following;
Technician - a person who carries out day to day maintenance and corrections including fault finding and replacement of parts. They ensure that what previously worked continues to work.
Engineer - a person who develops new functionality or corrects previous systems that didn’t ever function.
When to do the technician training?
Formal technician training most frequently takes place around the time that a new device is purchased, for the next 20 years it being expected that new technicians will “pick it up from the others”. But even for the initial batch of trainees it isn’t always easy to schedule; the problems arise because it is ideal that the team is fully trained before Ready for Training date (RFT) and start of operations; this means trying to train the team just at the moment acceptance is going on and access to the device is at a premium. Of course post RFT the planning team are not well disposed to relinquish potentially lucrative slots on the device for the team to be trained. If you already have other Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTDs) they will need to be kept running and having most of the team off-line on training at the same time isn’t going to work.
What we regularly hear is that, as FSTDs are so reliable nowadays, it can be a very long time before a technician actually sees a fault for the first time plus there is a lot to take in during what are now very short courses. So when they do eventually find themselves, invariably on a night shift, trying to configure an interface card it’s hard to recall how to do it. After around two years post RFT the maintenance team will, to paraphrase the American politician Donald Rumsfeld, “know what they don’t know”.
So our recommendation is that you split your training, prior to RFT get some of the more experienced members of the team to do the training, then after about two years get a refresher course.
One of the biggest problems we see when planning training is where you have a mix of different experience levels on the same course. For a person who has been maintaining FSTDs for a long time the training really amounts to a differences course, how is it done on this device. But if you have some newcomers to the industry on the same course they will need a lot more information, the basic concepts. This gives the instructor a dilemma; do I stop and teach the basic concepts while the old hands get bored or do I plough on knowing the newcomers will miss out. Basically don’t mix experience levels.
The training itself needs to be a mixture of theory and practical. Most Training Device Manufacturers (TDMs) have now reduced the extent of what training is offered down to two or three weeks, and this is normally just about sufficient. To be avoided is the dreaded “death by PowerPoint”. It is best to mix classroom training with practical sessions where content is demonstrated on the device. In an ideal world it would be done in a dedicated training facility with test rigs where faults can be introduced, we fear those days are drawing to an end. With time limited the instructors will not have time to ponder on why a particular system is designed as it is or the nuances of its features; the best use of time is to concentrate on fault finding and correction.
If you have just purchased a new device, assuming you negotiated it, you should have the services of a TDM supplied Field Service Representative (FSR) for some time. Make sure that it is agreed up front, prior to their arrival, that the FSR’s mandate includes an element of On the Job Training; furthermore make sure this is formalised and scheduled.
As noted above the needs of newcomers differ greatly to those of the more experienced technicians; we have found this is in two significant ways. Firstly they need to be taught the basics concepts of simulation, at this point we would love to be able to point you to a standard textbook but, alas, we don’t know of one. However this is something you could cover internally or contract to someone like SIM OPS. The other problem, unless they come from an aircraft industry background, is that there will be a language problem between them and the crews, the crews describing faults in aviation language the technicians are struggling to comprehend. There are a few strategies to address this, putting the team on a “Gen Fam” course for the aircraft is recommended and if possible putting them in the device during flyouts and testing. The good people will of course pick up the flight manuals (FCOM) and read them, those that don’t should be encouraged to do so.
One good practice we have seen used effectively is to produce, for each newcomer, an individualised training plan with all the skills and knowledge required listed and then tracked and signed off once achieved.
As a side note, one of our partners, a Private Pilots licence holder, was in the habit of taking newcomers flying in a private aircraft to be able to teach some basics in the air; this proved both motivational and educational.
One of the things we hear regularly is that “the team needs QTG training”. However you need to be careful you ask for the right thing; our experience is that there are three distinct training elements related to QTGs:
The correct running of the QTG tests,
The interpretation of the results, basically do they pass or fail,
The correction and possible re-mastering of tests.
Of these numbers 1 and 3 are specific to a device/TDM, number 2 is not. Number 1 should be covered by the TDM’s course and reinforced by the FSR as OJT. Number 2 is more difficult to source (companies like SIM OPS being able to assist) and now, arguably, the most important given the authorities change in emphasis on the responsibilities regarding ensuring QTGs are correct; i.e. placing this squarely with the operator. The difficult item is number 3, we have seen devices now being delivered without the tools necessary to do this, so before contemplating looking for training check you have the wherewithal to actually accomplish this on your device.
There are companies that offer training aimed at training potential regulators on this topic; the courses are excellent but be careful who you send, a course aimed at evaluating an FSTD may not be best suited to a simulator technician.
Engineer training - software courses
We’ve talked about the issues surrounding getting access to source code before but let’s just assume you have negotiated this and have a team of engineers that need to be trained to correct and modify software.
One thing to be careful of is that the people you send on these courses need to be experienced in high level programming languages, in particular the one your FSTD is programmed in, and simulation modelling techniques before they attend the course. We have seen people sent on these courses with no prior knowledge of even programming. A waste of everyone's time and money. We would also highly recommend you do the course using your own development station/tools.
Dedicated System Courses
Some motion, controls and visual systems suppliers offer dedicated training courses on their products (that are excellent). However we would recommend that these only be considered for experienced technicians and then after they have some time already maintaining the equipment so as to get maximum value from the investment. We also know of some operators arranging for their staff to go on visual database modelling courses, these and the associated equipment and licences will amount to a substantial investment. All we would say is to do your assessment on these carefully, with the Image Generator suppliers offering library access and keep up to date services we are not convinced of the value in doing your own modelling.
As always we strongly recommend that the maintenance team participate in the annual FSEMC conference where training topics often arise, indeed FSEMC have also published the ARINC report 432 covering training content that the TDMs are hopefully following.
How can SIM OPS Help
We are lucky to have the services of a professional trainer and have delivered technician training on some FSTD types; we also have excellent resources on hand to guide you through the training needed to accept your FSTD’s QTG and present it to your authority.