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ICARUS | A Better Way to Train IIMC!

Posted 3 years 95 days ago ago by Admin

In all my years of pilot training, I have never taken a position on a particular piece of training equipment—until now. 

Several months ago, I was introduced to a young pilot flying in the National Guard. He is both a pilot and engineer with a healthy passion for helicopter safety, and he introduced me to a new world of technology related to training pilots on inadvertent/unintended instrument meteorological conditions (I/UIMC). 

Nick Sinopoli is the founder, inventor, and managing partner of the Icarus Device, which he patented in 2016 (U.S. Patent No. 9,454,022). After a friend perished in an aviation accident, Nick was determined to make a revolutionary invention that would teach pilots to survive flight into low visibility. The device does not depart from current foggle-type apparatus; however, the technology provides the instructor the ability to vary weather scenarios in real-time that reduces the pilot’s visibility from the cockpit.   

At first, I was skeptical as I assumed this to be just another scheme or momentary fad with little value to improving pilot training. That assumption lasted until I flew the device. I was initially distracted by the size of the shield, but this went away almost immediately once the visibility reduction occurred the first time. Having flown quite a few hours in actual IMC in helicopters, the initial physiological experience was overwhelming. Simply stated, I felt like I was in the clouds!

The normal cues provided when using industry-standard foggles provide for glimpses of earth passing under you or to the sides within your peripheral view. The ICARUS device took all that away, so I was immersed in an obscuration much akin to a rapid IMC encounter. My initial aircraft control reflected the physiological effect I was experiencing. All aspects of stable flight were challenged as my body immediately told me the instruments were wrong, so the battle of survival in an I/UIMC event was in full effect at that moment.

I have since used ICARUS, teaching both new and experienced instrument pilots, all   had similar results. The ability to alter the current state of the visual environment while in the actual aircraft provides tremendous training benefits to the pilot in training. Feeling the actual forces of flight upon the aircraft while regaining and maintaining aircraft control is priceless. An essential ingredient in aviation training often lost when conducting simulation training is fear. Since ICARUS is utilized in an actual aircraft, an element of fear does exist creating a heightened sense of realism that affects the pilot’s performance. 

Technology expansion in simulation integrating real-time, immersive experiences have shown to improve pilot performance post-training. What is needed in simulation is the ability for the pilot to be engaged in the simulated event while experiencing the same emotional factors that affect actual decision-making. I passionately believe the ICARUS product has crossed a threshold that makes this initiative a reality.

I/UIMC is a serious flight condition that leads to the death of too many pilots, crewmembers, and passengers. We as an industry must seek out and embrace new methods of attacking old problems. Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

About Randy: 
Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.

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