Leveraging Smarts — EAA Founder’s Innovation Prize Taps Member Expertise

By Beth E. Stanton, EAA 1076326

This story first appeared
in the November 2019 issue of
Sport Aviation.

Loss of control (LOC) is the largest cause of fatal general aviation accidents. The EAA Founder’s Innovation Prize is working to find a solution to reduce LOC accidents. Now through its fourth year, the Founder’s Innovation Prize, presented by Airbus, welcomes technology or training improvements that may be implemented easily and inexpensively throughout the entire GA fleet.

On July 23, at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019, five finalists chosen from 33 entrants presented their projects to a panel of judges at Theater in the Woods.

“EAA has long been
committed to the safety of our community,” said emcee Heather Penney, EAA
1266991 and senior resident fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace
Studies. “This program represents the long-standing commitment to safety and,
importantly, leveraging the creativity, the experience, the capability, and the
expertise of our membership to solve the problems that we all face in reducing
loss-of-control accidents.”

Judges included EAA board member and former space shuttle commander Charlie Precourt, EAA Lifetime 150237; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Pat Anderson, EAA 562356; former NTSB investigator Gregory Feith, EAA 546383; civilian test pilot Dave Morss, EAA 133735; and Van’s Aircraft founder Dick VanGrunsven, EAA Lifetime 3204.

First Place, $25,000 Prize

BuzzBall, Ethan Brodsky, EAA 1068330

believes a pilot’s sense of touch is underused.

“The visual
system is already busy when you’re flying,” he said. “It’s important to have
your eyes outside when you’re maneuvering in the pattern.”

senses the turn coordinator ball position and alerts a pilot of uncoordinated
flight. One of two buzzers in a seat cushion is activated, indicating which
rudder pedal to step on to regain coordinated flight. The tactile feedback from
BuzzBall increases the ability to recognize and correct uncoordinated flight
and can help train pilots to maintain coordination unconsciously.

feedback should be conveyed actively, not passively, and warnings need to break
through distraction and mental clutter,” Ethan said.

Ethan was a
2017 Founder’s Innovation Prize finalist and has since made changes in hardware, software,
and enclosure. He also added a spin recovery mode and has completed 150 hours
of testing. BuzzBall electronics are built on
the Arduino platform, and the seat cushion uses an automotive lane departure
warning system powered by a haptic seat motor. It is low cost, it installs
easily, and the software code is available for download on Bitbucket.

For more on Ethan Brodsky and BuzzBall, check out his guest appearance on EAA’s The Green Dot podcast.

Second Place, $10,000 Prize

Situational Awareness Trainer, Rudy Moore, EAA 673269

Photo by Christina Basken.

During Rudy’s
first flight lessons, his instructor told him to listen to sounds in the cockpit.
A drop in wind and engine noise indicated entering into a slow flight regime. Rudy’s
“aha” moment was noticing the aircraft carbon monoxide sensor.

“Why couldn’t
we have a solution like that that measured sound?” he asked.

The Situational Awareness
Trainer has a sound sensor and bar graphs that
display wind and engine noise and warn the pilot when wind is reaching
predetermined low levels.

“The novelty
of this invention is cabin sound detection,” Rudy said. “There is a machine
learning process where it can be learned for any airplane after doing some
basic calibration.”

accelerometer detects uncoordinated flight and sounds an alarm.

self-contained portable device prototype uses off-the-shelf components and
costs about $50. Rudy is working to get the price down to $12.

Third Place, $5,000 Prize

FeelFlight Grip, Jack Hohner, EAA 170715

Photo by Christina Basken.

Jack’s primary flight
instructor drilled him to watch his airspeed and the turn
coordinator ball.

“They are two
of the most important things to avoid loss of control,” he said.

FeelFlight Grip is a tactile, visual, and audio feedback device. Three
actuators on the grip pulse against the ring,
middle, and index fingers with angle of attack (AOA) inclination
information for the best rate of climb, best angle of climb, and just above
stall, respectively. Two additional actuators on either side of the grip pulse
turn coordinator input, contacting the right and left lower part of the index
finger and thumb.

lights mounted in the panel signal inclination, and an audio tone warns before
stall. According to Jack, the significant innovation is inclusion of the
tactile element.

“All three
modalities are synchronized,” he said. “If they signal the pilot at the same
time, the sum is more than the parts and multiplies the response that the pilot
is getting.”

Other Finalists

Enhanced Scenario-Based Training, Carl Lawrence, EAA 666030

Photo by Christina Basken.

cerebellum is the unconscious portion of the brain with lightning-fast
reactions that may be trained through repetition. Carl compared Patty Wagstaff
and Sean D. Tucker to black belt martial artists with actions trained through
muscle memory.

“The question
then becomes: How can you train the average pilot’s cerebellum to react like
Patty’s and Sean’s?” he asked.

Enhanced Scenario-Based
Training would imprint the cerebellum with muscle
memory. The methodology uses GA aircraft with an instructor at a safe altitude.
The pilot trains in loss-of-control situations using virtual reality.
Components include a Vive system, Oculus Rift headset, computer, and expandable
scenario library. It is estimated to cost about $1,500.

training experience stays with a pilot, no matter what aircraft they fly in and
how it’s equipped,” Carl said.

Reducing Loss-of-Control Accidents to Keep Our Friends Alive, Ed Wischmeyer, EAA 18879

Photo by Christina Basken.

Ed believes
that loss of control results from “cognitive unavailability” — a pilot not
processing cues while flying outside their comfortable flight envelope. His
solution is to expand a pilot’s personal comfort zone and flight envelope.

In expanded envelope
exercises (E3), precursors to loss of control — such as high workload, high
stress, high sensory input, precision, and full control deflection — are
practiced. E3 is different from
upset recovery training conducted in aerobatic-capable aircraft.

“You want to let the
pilot train in their own familiar everyday airplane,” Ed said.

E3 has been
tested in transition training and flight reviews with benefits observed after
just one hour. A couple dozen subject pilots are slated to further explore the
effectiveness of E3 this fall at Utah Valley University.

2020 Grand Championship

Finalists and honorable
mention contestants from prior Founder’s Innovation Prize competitions are
eligible to compete in the 2020 Founder’s Innovation Prize Grand Championship.
The goal of the championship is to further the progress and encourage the
strongest entries from the last four years to continue to develop their ideas
into real-world solutions.

“What is really going to
be interesting is to see going back to the first year, how far many have gone
with their entries,” Charlie said.

This year’s
first- and third-place winners, Ethan and Jack, were fourth-place finalists in
2017 and 2018, respectively.

“Ethan had
taken some criticism from us about BuzzBall from the first time and really went
with it,” Charlie said. “What was really impressive was how well he knew what
he was doing with his development. Anybody can go get this off the open market
and for 50 bucks have it in their airplane. It’s an enhancement that could be
used in the training side, or on the warning side, or both.”

Jack had a
booth with his FeelFlight Grip in the Innovation Showcase at AirVenture this

“What I liked
about it is that it does both yaw and angle of attack in one place,” Charlie
said. “He is actually out marketing it and has made a lot of progress on the
place we want to go — a viable commercial product to get out into the fleet.
And it came from here.”

Beth E. Stanton, EAA 1076326, majored in English because it
involved the least amount of math. She finds it hilarious that now she is a
pilot and writes stories about airplanes and technical stuff.

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