The Air National Guard is studying whether pilots may be able to replace paper copies of reference manuals with electronic versions stored on a tablet. Such technology could make it easier for pilots to look up technical information and reduce weight on aircraft.
The Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center in Tucson, Ariz., is working alongside the Georgia Tech Research Institute on evaluating 24 commercial tablets’ compatibility in the cockpit, including whether tablets need to be ruggedized to meet military specifications, said Air Force Lt. Col. Vincent Sei, deputy director of testing.
Additionally, Georgia Tech is building two software applications for use by the Air National Guard. The first is a technical order app that includes information on safety procedures and other information that can be used in an emergency such as an engine failure.
The test center originally looked at commercial document readers, but they did not allow pilots to rapidly access information. Georgia Tech’s apps, on the other hand, were designed with “nice, big, pilot friendly buttons” that quickly take you to the appropriate pages and then back to the table of contents, Sei said.
Georgia Tech is also designing an app version of its FalconView mapping software, which includes flight charts and mission planning elements, allowing pilots to plan weapons delivery and aerial refueling, he said. This application could be used by the Army and Air Force, which have shown interest in developing the software and have contributed funding.
So far about 15 pilots have tested two tablets — one running Apple’s iOS and one running Google’s Android operating system — during four days’ worth of A-10 and F-16 simulator sessions. The response from pilots has been positive, Sei said.
“They [the tablets] seem to work really well. Obviously there are issues with flight gloves, but companies have already figured that out and made special flight gloves that work with touch technologies,” he said.
Pilots have conducted A-10 flights with tablets loaded with the technical order app, and flight testing of the FalconView mobile application will begin next summer, he said. The Air National Guard also intends to test the tablets in F-16 jet fighters.
The government will retain ownership of any software developed.
“We looked at a lot of commercial software packages … and they’re awesome,” Sei explained. But once the Guard started to figure in upkeep and building in extra features, the expenses kept piling on, he said.
Whether the government will eventually contract portions of the initiative out to industry is yet to be decided, he said. Photo Credit: Defense Dept.