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Strategic partnership of innovation: PTN, NASA launch two-part collaborative research agreement

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kenya Pettway
  • AETC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Officials from Air Education and Training Command’s Pilot Training Next have established a strategic partnership with NASA, focused on biometric data collection and the application of emerging technology into PTN curriculum that will innovate the student pilot learning environment.

AETC and NASA officials will collectively research the physiological and cognitive factors that contribute to optimal student pilot learning, and develop technologies related to eye-tracking data visualization and multi-modal human interfaces.

AETC and NASA first established their partnership December 2017.

“We’re always interested in working with high-performing organizations that are facing the same challenges and pursuing technologies of mutual interest,” said Frank Delgado, NASA-PTN project manager. “Since the Air Force and NASA are both interested in investigating the use of advanced, innovative technology to improve training and real-time operation support, it seemed fitting to develop a collaborative partnership.”

Lt. Col Ryan Riley, Detachment 24 commander, expounded on the partnership, stating that the foremost lesson learned from the previous two iterations of PTN is how to actually interpret individualized biometric data – an already-present proficiency at NASA.

“The principal lesson we’re learning from NASA experts is how to draw inferences from student-specific, biometric data,” said Riley. “NASA is helping us become proficient at translating what the data means.  We hope to optimize the flying training experience and enable instructors to provide student-specific feedback in real-time, enhancing recommendations for future training events at Pilot Training Next.”

In addition to biometric data, NASA is contributing eye-tracking data visualization technology that traces and records student pilots’ eye movements during simulated rides, allowing instructor pilots to analyze the data in real-time and post-flight.

Instructor pilots can retrieve the recorded eye-tracking data to deliver individualized, data-informed insights to student pilots on their ability to visually divide their attention, multitask and make decisive decisions in a highly complex environment.

“Briefs and debriefs are what we utilize in aviation to be able to understand how we learn and perform,” said Capt. Michelle Sinagra, PTN chief of human performance. “But with objective data obtained via eye-tracking data visualization, instructor pilots will have an accurate reference of how the students were conducting their crosschecks and build academic content on specific areas that need improvement, allowing students to perfect skills faster and build situational awareness.”

As a part of the collaborative research agreement, NASA is also developing a machine-learning algorithm that will generate a comprehensive view of human performance to optimize the student pilot learning experience.

PTN version three student pilots will undergo simulated rides and provide a quantitative measurement of their cognitive workload, after which instructor pilots will deliver a tailored assessment of the students’ performance. Along with the objective data normally collected from simulators via individual training profiles, NASA will refine the algorithm that will assist AETC officials in determining the ideal physiological and cognitive state for the learning paradigm.

However, PTN will not be the sole beneficiary of this partnership.

“We also get access to their pilots and instructor pilots to conduct different sorties,” said Delgado. "The data collected as they’re conducting sorties is very important and will be used to help augment and improve the cognitive workload determination systems that we’re developing. The more data we collect and the more testing the systems undergo, the better the systems will perform.”

With this strategic partnership between PTN and NASA, AETC officials can apply the latest technology to innovate the student pilot learning environment, helping meet and exceed the efficiency and performance standards expected of future aviators in modern battlespace.

To learn more about Pilot Training Next, click here.