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Video Flight training Podcasts from UND

Steep Turns 1As a sign of things to come, the University of North Dakota’s Aerospace team have just started putting out some flight training video podcasts combining computer-generated in-flight footage with real video, narrated by Anthony Bottini, one of the UND CFIs. Previously only found on quite expensive DVD and CD ROM kits, these types of multimedia presentations are a great way to create engaging training material and I’ll be following their progress with great interest.

I was browsing the web site for x-plane, my favorite flight simulator (Mac, PC and Linux, well worth a look if you havent tried it yet) and came across the link to the UND podcasts. The link opens up Apple’s iTunes software to the appropriate location so that you can subscribe to the podcasts and then have the latest episodes downloaded directly to your Mac or PC. If you have a video iPod you could use these as refresher courses whenever and where-ever you like. If you dont have iTunes I dont think there is a way you can view the podcasts though iTunes is a free download from Apple if you are interested. UND doesnt have a supporting website that I could find so I’ve attached some screenshots below to give you a feel for what it looks like.

Steep Turns1 Steep Turns2 Steep Turns3
Steep Turns4 Steep Turns5 Steep Turns6

In the episodes released to date, they use in-flight footage generated from X-plane, taking advantage of X-plane’s highly accurate flight model and high resolution scenery to illustrate a variety of the Commercial maneuvers such as Steep Turns, Chandelles, Lazy Eights and Steep Spirals. The episodes are narrated by Anthony Bottini, one of the UND CFIs, and he talks you through the overview, setup and performance of each of these maneuvers. The material is presented from the UND perspective – they are flown using a Piper Arrow, one of the main training airplanes in the UND fleet, and they are teaching their way of performing these maneuvers. If you are training in a high wing aircraft, what you see out of the window will be different to what you see in the low-wing footage in the podcasts, similarly the engine settings you use will be slightly different too. However, being able to see how an established aviation training system presents these maneuvers is very valuable and the material is useful regardless of the aircraft you might fly normally. The UND podcasts use a good mixture of footage combined with onscreen text and diagrams, the narrated descriptions of the maneuvers are clear and the underlying music and soundtrack completes the professional appearance of the finished product.

Personally, I’m excited by this project as its a combination of technologies that I really like – flight sim software which has accurate instruments, performance and great looking scenery combined with video and narration. Real in-flight footage is great but you need a plane, camera person, pilot, editing suite, etc., all of which is pretty costly. Using sim software like X-plane to provide the footage has a number of advantages for this type of application. Other than being infinitely cheaper, one person can do it all, you can replay the flights, see the flight path of the plane in the air and over the ground, (see the 5th image, above), you can easily create shots from many perspectives – from inside the cockpit, outside in the chase plane view, overhead, from the tower, etc.

Previously, the graphics have been lacking in flight sims which made them a less than optimal replacement for real in-flight footage. However, as the quality of the graphics continues to improve and is combined with real satellite imagery and better quality weather (clouds, rain, visibility, etc), just about anyone can think about creating this type of footage on their home PC. It takes much more than this to produce good quality training videos but the barrier to entry has gone way down which will most likely lead to some very viable alternatives to the established purveyors of flight training material.

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