Friday, April 28, 2023

Aerobility VAE Cursus With GeoFS

A few months ago, Aerobility, a UK based charity contacted me to see if GeoFS could be used in their new Virtual Aviation Experience (VAE) program. Aerobility is dedicated to teaching flight to disabled people with the help of custom equipped aircraft and facilities. The pandemic and the ambition to reach a wider audience got them thinking about remote teaching and they needed a tool for that. The fact that GeoFS is web based makes it a very good fit: you can just share a link with the students and they start flying right way! Moreover, GeoFS's control sharing feature enables the instructor and the trainee to fly the same plane each from their own computer and swap control at will. However, making sure people with severe disabilities can use the simulator easily was the real test for an application that calls itself "The Accessible Flight Simulator".

A few discussions and experiments later and I was building the Piper PA-28 used for Aerobility's real world training, down to the exact cockpit layout reproduced from pictures, and wrapping it in their own livery. Getting used to reading instruments and manipulating controls in a cockpit that shows the proper layout is a great plus for young pilots who will soon find themselves in the real plane. Flying VFR with high resolution aerial images also prepares the students to recognise the area and get familiar with landmarks around the airport.

The simulated aircraft was tested by Mike Owen, Aerobility Chief Flight Instructor, who provided feedback on the plane's behaviour compared to the real thing. The goal is to be able to replicate maneuvers done in real-life conditions and see the same reaction from control input.

In February, Mark Rothwell, VAE Program Manager and Mike Miller-Smith, Aerobility CEO, were kind enough to invite me to their home base at Blackbushe Airport (EGLK), an hour drive south-west of London, to visit their facilities and see first hand what it takes to fly with disabilities. Mike made me fly GeoFS using a clever gyro-based controller device you wear like pair of glasses - a way to "eat my own dog food" as we say in the software industry.

I could really feel the passion and enthusiasm for aviation of the whole Aerobility team. Mark has plenty of experience when it comes to flying and has the patience to bear with my tinkering with GeoFS to make it work for them. Mike has a vision and the drive , and it is truly impressive to see him flying the sim using eye tracking and voice control (Mike suffers from muscular dystrophy). I was sitting next to him during a - rather acrobatic - session in GeoFS' Piper Cub and I could instantly spot all sorts of limitations in the application when it came to accessibility. I made some modifications to the user interface, controls and settings as soon as I got back to my keyboard to alleviate some of these pain points. But I am sure much more can still be done as I will gather more feedback from Aerobility trainees and instructors.

I also got the chance to try the PA-28, first hand, during a quick flight over the British countryside together with Mike. Mike is a brilliant instructor and had me go through some flaps/rudder/stall maneuvers to see and feel how the aircraft behaved. I used this great opportunity to take note of some of the specifics of the aircraft and fine tune the flight model once back at home.

This was, overall, a very rich and fulfilling experience. I am very proud and very happy to see GeoFS being used in such a way.

The Aerobility VAE cursus is just getting started and all info and registration can be found here: