New system helps students learn communications

July 29, 2010

Ask new student pilots their biggest fear, and it usually isn’t landings, steep turns, or stalls. It’s talking on the radio. To help students master radio techniques, Redbird Flight Simulators has introduced the Parrot project, an artificial-intelligence-driven radio communications training system. The system connects to Redbird flight simulators and infuses ATC-style communications scenarios into every phase of flight.

“Students tell us that one of the major things that causes them anxiety when they are learning to fly is the radio,” said John King of King Schools. He and his wife, Martha, are marketing the system and desktop simulators from Redbird. “With Parrot there is a technological solution that will make learning to talk on the radio fun and stress-free,” explained Martha.

During a demonstration at EAA AirVenture, Jerry Gregoire, founder and chairman of Redbird, showed how after start up a student listens to a Parrot-created ATIS and copies a clearance. The student pushes a button on the yoke, just as in the real airplane, and reads back the clearance through a headset-mounted microphone. Any errors in the read-back cause the system to restate the clearance and give the student another chance. If a student gets stuck, he or she can say, “Help,” and the system will explain what is missing or wrong. Similarly, Parrot issues taxi and takeoff clearances, en route handoffs, and approach clearances. The system includes a frequency database for the entire country, meaning the students must also enter proper frequencies for each ATC facility. When moving from one facility to another, Parrot uses different voices to enhance the simulation.

According to Gregoire, the system is completely dynamic, building speech responses based on the given situation. It is not simply a series of canned phrases. For example, it will issue a clearance to land on a particular runway based on the wind direction set in the simulator.

Prior to starting the initial session, a student reads a short paragraph to train Parrot to understand the student’s voice. The system is particularly helpful for students for whom English is a second language—it is perennially patient and guides students into correct and understandable phraseology as prescribed by the Aeronautical Information Manual. Parrot is a separate computer that connects to any of the Redbird’s desktop or full-motion simulators.

The system is expected to ship in early 2011 and will sell for $7,000 to $8,000 with the ability to understand and store an unlimited number of student voice profiles at flight schools. Systems for individual users that can store up to two voice profiles at a time will be priced lower.

Look for a feature story on Redbird Simulators in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot.