Air Force Awards $1M to Purdue Alumni for Pilot App

three Purdue alumni developed software called PlaneEnglish to help teach new pilots the "language" of aviation. (image courtesy Purdue University)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The U.S. Air Force has awarded a $1 million grant to three Purdue University alumni who developed technology to help improve communication between pilots and air traffic control.

This is the second Small Business Innovation Research award the creators of the PlaneEnglish simulator have received from the U.S.A.F and AFWERX, the Air Force’s technology and innovation hub. They received a $50,000 SBIR grant in September.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to play an even bigger part in helping the Air Force train pilots using a digital approach that’s proven popular with users,” said Muharrem Mane, one of the creators of the simulator.

Mane says they’ve also approached the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps about using the technology with their pilots. 

PlaneEnglish is an app-based aviation radio simulator to help new pilots acquire radio communication proficiency in a more realistic environment.

PlaneEnglish lessons guide users through simple and complicated interactions with air traffic control on every phase of flight. Users are required to respond properly in specific situations, using the correct phraseology, and speech rate.

Mane says the military version is modified to suit their specific demands.

“There are radio procedures and phraseology that is specific to the military and not encountered in civilian flying. Part of our effort will focus on including that training material in our tool and thus adapting it to the Air Force,” Mane said

Mane says the Federal Aviation Administration has put an increased focus on English language proficiency for pilots and started asking instructors to test their students on their speaking and communication abilities.

“It is basically very minimal pieces of information that you (pilots) need to keep things clear and understandable so there is no confusion, because air traffic controllers managing, especially busier airports, are managing a lot of traffic,” explained Mane.

The PlaneEnglish team works out of the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette.