Aircraft simulator at heart of United Airlines
United Airlines upgrades its onboard training program
with unique a/v systems and Sharp LCD projectors.
The idea of multi-media instruction is talked about in many corporations. But staff
at the United Airlines Training Center take the concept very seriously. The Center,
located in Elk Grove, Illinois, is where the
airline trains all of its new flight attendants.
In a seven-week introductory
class, staff use almost every type of instructional media, but they
don't stop there.
"It's a very, very intense
program, " says Doug Tulp, Senior Staff Rep for Instructional Design
for United's Onboard Service Training Division. "Hours are long,
and we have a nice mix of computer-based, video and classroom training.
But for us, that's not enough. We need a place for students not only
to learn the material in a classroom environment, but to practice what
they learn and be tested. "
For this reason, the centerpiece
of the facility is a fully operational mockup of a Boeing 747 passenger
cabin. This cabin trainer and its video system help provide hands-on
instruction in a way that few corporate training programs can come close
United uses this cabin trainer
primarily for instruction in food preparation and presentation, passenger
safety equipment demos and customer interaction.
Two older simulators, now
being upgraded with similar video systems, are also used in these curricular
areas, with several more at nearby O'Hare Airport used for instruction
in emergency procedures.
A unique learning experience
The new cabin trainer is
unique for the airline in two ways. First, it is complete in every detail,
offering trainees a fully operational galley, aircraft video and audio
systems, and first class, business class and economy class sections.
Second, its elaborate video system allows instructors to show demonstrations
taking place on board the simulator to large groups in an adjoining
A typical session using the cabin trainer includes 10 to 30 students.
It begins in the classroom with a short lecture, viewing of a videotape,
and discussion. Then the class will move into the simulator. Most
often the instructor will demonstrate the topic at hand, whether that's
preparing a meal, showing passengers the use of safety equipment or
role playing customer interactions. Then the students practice the
One problem that United
has long faced is the limited space for student observers in an airline
galley or aisle. To offer as realistic an experience as possible,
United instructors have wanted to do the demonstrations and practice
sessions in their cabin trainers, but have not, until now, been able
to allow a whole class to watch them at once. They also have long
understood the value of self- and class-critiques of practice sessions.
Now they can pick up the various sessions with color cameras mounted
in each of the cabin's zones and send them to a switcher, VCR and
large-screen monitor at the instructor's station. Students can watch
the sessions live from the classroom, and instructors can play back
the videos for student review or their own evaluation.
Evaluation is important
in itself. United students must pass a series of tests before they
are allowed to leave the program and start on the job. Center staff
evaluate and videotape each student, one-on-one, in the cabin trainer,
recording their ability to perform and to react professionally in
a number of situations.
The installation and
the audio/visual system
United Airlines has used
cabin simulators for training for many years. The alternative, says
Tulp, is to use real aircraft, which is very expensive, or to forgo
hands-on training, "which was never an option. " Real aircraft,
though once commonly used in training, became almost impossible to
schedule in the '80s and '90s, as aircraft utilization increased dramatically.
The Center's staff began
planning the construction of the 747 cabin trainer in 1995, because
they saw an increased need for training new flight attendants for
service on international flights, which use these large planes. They
took the opportunity, at this time, to address a number of deficiencies
in the trainers they were already using, including the need for the
The challenges involved
in building the a/v system included fitting it unobtrusively into
the on-board environment, providing for the convenience of the instructors
and students, and offering the flexibility to work in the various
conditions that would be used to simulate a real aircraft at work.
One interesting detail
of the video system is the use of a Sharp LCD projector in the first
class section. A real airliner would include a three-tube projector
specially built to withstand the G- forces and vibration encountered
in flight. The cost of such projectors is very high, and the special
construction is not needed for the cabin trainer. United found they
were able to get very good pictures and interface to the airliner
VCRs with the lower- cost Sharp, while staying close to the look and
feel of the on-board projectors.
The image quality coming
from the LCD projector allows instructors to use it in two ways. While
the primary purpose is instruction on the operation of the on-board
video system, it also proves convenient for classes working inside
the simulator. "We can use it for demonstrations and to play
videos for a class that might be sitting in the cabin trainer, "
says Tulp. "There's no need to move them back into the classroom.
The instructor's station,
at the front of the classroom, has added a lot of flexibility to the
system. A Kramer switcher and a triple monitor make it very easy to
select the proper feed for the monitor or VCR. It also provides a
handy place for gathering notes and instructional materials.
The cameras, too, have
proved very flexible. "Rick at United Visual suggested we go
with surveillance cameras, " comments Tulp. "They gave us
color and also a very clear picture under low light conditions. We
needed something like that if we wanted to shoot, say, customer interaction
during a night flight. The goal in all of this is to give us the flexibility
to train in the different environments actually encountered on board
the aircraft. "
That flexibility is critical
to the success of the training program. Tulp says the new cabin trainer
works wonderfully...The keys are its realism, its hands on component,
and the ability it gives us to evaluate, review and coach our students.
It really comes down to the ability to simulate the actual work environment
and teach our cabin crews to perform in that environment.