REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Aug. 7, 2023) – It is a tool developed for Army pilots – and now it is also helping to train firefighters to combat blazes in California.
The Cockpit Academic Procedural Tool – Enhanced Visual Control System, or CAPT-EVCS, was developed by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center to provide pilots an opportunity to sit in a UH-60M Black Hawk system, interact with the controls, displays, and visualization as if in the actual aircraft. The system, a classroom enhancer, was designed to look, feel and even smell like a helicopter.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employs the civilian version of the UH-60M, the S-70I Fire Hawk, which has a similar cockpit functionality to the UH-60M. To both familiarize and train their pilots, CAL FIRE was sending them to out-of-state simulator facilities, a time-consuming effort. The talk in aviation circles was that the Army had another option to support aircraft familiarization. CAPT-EVCS’s hardware is commercially available but its software, known as Aircraft Avionics Procedural Software, is developed by DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center’s Software, Simulation, Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate. Josh DuPont with S3I’s Aviation Crew Station branch arranged to send them UH-60M AAPS. But they needed more.
“There is firefighting equipment on their helicopters and they did not have that part (of the software),” said Nick Nickles, UH-60M Crew Station Lead for AvMC. “So that brought up the CRADA.”
A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, is a written agreement between a private company and a government agency to work together on a project. CRADAs allow federal labs, such as the DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, to collaborate with non-federal partners to transfer technology.
Anyone who has ever worked on a CRADA knows it can be a cumbersome process. Once the team scaled that mountain, they began enhancing CAPT-EVCS software to support CAL FIRE’s additional mission set. While most of the software would be reused, CAL FIRE’s mission required additional tools.
“Since they're flying through mountains, you need to make sure that the handling quality of the flight model was realistic in those envelopes,” said DuPont. “We had to add in winds and gusts and make sure that they could onboard 7,000 pounds of water and then drop it in a couple of seconds.
“Also, since they're flying close to the terrain, emergency procedures and malfunctions are a serious thing for them, so we had to make sure we've modeled more of those for them based off of their use cases.”
The partnership between DEVCOM AvMC and CAL FIRE is testament to how beneficial collaboration can be for the Army with civilian agency partners. And the California sky isn’t even the limit for CAPT-EVCS, Nickles said that other first responder departments who employ the same helicopters can benefit from the system.
As for the Aviation Crew Stations branch, DuPont said that the added software features created for CAL FIRE were always capabilities that the team wanted CAPT-EVCS to have, but they were limited by Army budgetary restrictions. However, with CAL FIRE funding the project, it is a win-win for everyone.
“As they grow the modularity of the software, that’s software that comes back to the Army for free,” Nickles said.
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.