The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

CAE Develops AAM Mixed-reality Trainer, Teams with Piper on Electric Archer STC

Aviation training group CAE is developing a flight trainer to address the emerging needs of the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector, and it has partnered with Piper Aircraft to develop a supplemental type certificate (STC) for an electric powerplant conversion of the single-engine Piper PA-28-181 Archer light airplane, the companies announced Tuesday at the Farnborough Airshow in the UK. 

Under the partnership, Swiss company H55—which provided technology used on the Solar Impulse sun-powered world-rounding airplane—will supply the battery system for the STC. Safran Electrical & Power will contribute its EngineUs 100 electric motor, which provides a maximum of 150 kW of power at takeoff and incorporates an integrated motor controller. The effort draws support from a Project Resilience program under which CAE plans to invest C$1 billion over the next five years in innovation through a partnership with the governments of Canada and Quebec.

In announcing the partnership on Tuesday, CAE president and CEO Marc Parent said the project combines CAE’s “innovative spirit and our commitment to sustainability” and comes as the company celebrates its 75th anniversary. As for the move to electrify the Piper, he noted that new propulsion technology stimulated development over the history of aviation. "We’re seeing it here today," said Parent. "This is a leap forward for CAE.”

Ron Gunnerson, v-p of sales, marketing, and customer support for Piper; Pierre Fitzgibbon, minister of economy and innovation of Quebec; CAE president and CEO Marc Parent; Francois-Philippe Champagne, minister of innovation, science, and industry of Canada.
From left, Ron Gunnerson, v-p of sales, marketing, and customer support for Piper; Pierre Fitzgibbon, minister of economy and innovation of Quebec; CAE president and CEO Marc Parent; Francois-Philippe Champagne, minister of innovation, science, and industry of Canada. (Credit: Kerry Lynch/AIN)

Noting that Piper has produced more than 28,000 Archers, Parent added that selecting that model made sense for CAE because it is one of the largest operators of the Piper aircraft. “We literally have hundreds of aircraft and a big portion is Piper Archer aircraft,” he said.

As such, he added, Piper is “absolutely positioned to bring in leaders in electrification together…to develop a modification for the aircraft." Parent noted that the modification will be important for CAE not only in making its training more sustainable but also in helping to train students in the operation of electrical aircraft, which he sees as an important need.

Plans call for CAE to make the STC available not only for its flight schools but to other operators worldwide. Under the agreement, Piper would have the ability to leverage the STC for its other products and into the production line. Ron Gunnarson, vice president of sales, marketing, and customer support for Piper, said that the approach is similar to the one it took with the Continental CD-155 engine, which can run on diesel or jet-A and is offered in an Archer airframe. He added that the company plans to move forward with such evaluations.

Parent was not yet ready to reveal a timeline for the project, saying only that “we’re not talking years.” Pricing is still to come as well.

CAE's New AAM Mixed-Reality Trainer

CAE's new high-fidelity, mixed-reality 700MXR trainers, which Leontidis likened to advanced flight training devices, represent a fresh approach to training that will reflect low-altitude, single-pilot operations in complex airspaces and urban environments.

“We have a training device that we think is going to be better suited to train pilots for this type of air vehicle,” Leontidis said, adding that the idea is to make the devices cost-effective for a market with lower-priced aircraft. He noted that the operational environment will lead to “a whole bunch of training requirements that we think will drive a need for a new training device.”

CAE expects that because of several parameters, such aircraft might involve a type rating, but the company has been working with regulators on the nature of the new requirements. Leontidis added that regulations already are well established for single-pilot and vertical flight but not for the AAM sector. “We’re going to try to stay as close to existing regulations as we can and then over time make changes,” he said.

The new line will use a wearable headset display combined with a compact mini-motion platform and 360-degree field of view to provide high-fidelity, physics-based simulation with an immersive “out-the-window” 3D environment. The wearable mixed-reality headset works with real cockpit controls and instrumentation to deliver realistic, low-flying scenarios, CAE said.

While each vehicle has its own specifics in how it operates, Simon Azar, CAE vice president of strategy, marketing, and adjacencies for civil aviation, said that many are using similar avionics and cockpit environments, establishing a baseline for the training device series. “In the end, the basic requirements are the same,” he said. 

The CAE 700MXR is already in development, CAE executives said, and will be ready when AAMs enter service. While an independent CAE initiative, the development of the trainers comes as CAE has been building partnerships in the AAM sector. On Tuesday, CAE revealed its fifth such agreement—with Vertical Aerospace—following arrangements with Jaunt, Volocopter, Beta Technologies, and Joby. Under the agreement with Vertical, CAE will design and launch a training program for Vertical Aerospace’s VX4 aircraft, which is targeted for service entry in 2025.

CAE sees a large emerging demand for AAM training, with Chris Courtney, director of advanced air mobility for the company, estimating a need for 60,000 to 70,000 pilots over 10-plus years to operate those vehicles. At the same time, CAE’s traditional airline and corporate customer base already accounts for nearly 75 percent of the orders placed for AAM.

“What this industry is looking for is scale," Courtney said. "There will also be a large demand for pilots to get initial training and current training. We believe that this new type of simulation device is a cost-effective solution for this new emerging market and the training requirements that are needed to operationalize advanced mobility.”

Regarding when and where the training will occur, Leontidis said it will depend on the needs of the market. He noted that CAE and Volocopter are working to certify and deploy a pilot training program with the goal of launching operations around the time of the summer 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris. “This is the type of technology we are developing in support of those operations,” he concluded.