One of the most difficult parts of learning to fly has always been learning to talk on the radio. I know it was for me when I was a teenager negotiating with controllers at my first few towered airports. With no experience in the system, simulated or otherwise, I had to scramble to figure out what the controller was saying, what it meant and what I was supposed to say in response.
I had some practice — the best instructors have always drilled their students on the proper procedures — but even that wasn't enough for me to feel comfortable in the system. And my experience is hardly the exception.
Finally, there's an option for helping student pilots learn the ins and outs of ATC communications. Redbird Flight Simulations has launched a product, called Parrot, that simulates the verbal interaction between a controller and a pilot. The product is an optional addition to nearly all of Redbird's flight simulators.
King Schools' John and Martha King helped launch Parrot at AirVenture in late July. The product is available from King Schools as an add-on for the Redbird TD desktop flight simulator.
If an ATC simulator sounds like an easy product to develop, think again. Parrot needs to be able to recognize what the student is saying and then give a response to the student that is appropriate to both what the student has said and to the flight situation.
The key to the program is training the program to recognize the student's individual voice patterns. So before getting started in the sim, the student needs to spend a few minutes reading scripts and letting the program familiarize itself with the vocal patterns.
I had a chance to try out Parrot at AirVenture, and despite the fact that I had not spent the time to create a voice profile, I was still amazed at how well it understood what I was saying. The caveat is that you need to speak clearly and use proper AIM phraseology, something at which, I discovered, I could use a lot of practice.
The version I demoed was still a little rough. The production program will feature less rigid phraseology demands, even better voice recognition and more sophisticated background chatter from other pilots the controller is working.
While it still has a great deal of room for expanded capabilities and growth into new products, Redbird's Parrot is already a success. For the first time with this product, students can practice their radio work without fear of embarrassment and without the expense of having to be in an actual airplane.