KPU students explore flight expertise in simulator field trip

Psychology students experienced being a pilot and applied skills they’ve learned in a unique environment

KPU psychology students participated in a 737 Boeing Max flight simulator at Aerosim Experience in Richmond to enhance the skills they learned in class. (Abby Luciano)

KPU psychology students participated in a 737 Boeing Max flight simulator at Aerosim Experience in Richmond to enhance the skills they learned in class. (Abby Luciano)

Flying an airplane and learning the controls while looking over the sky and mountains is not something you would expect to experience in university. 

But this is exactly what Kwantlen Polytechnic University psychology students did at Aerosim Experience, a flight simulator company in Richmond for both beginners and experienced pilots, on Nov. 13. 

Psychology students from the human factors and cognitive ergonomics classes participated in the Boeing 737 Max flight simulator along with university administrators and students from the KPU Virtual Reality Lab.

The field trip was organized by psychology instructor Farhad Dastur, who is teaching both classes this semester and founded the lab in 2019.  

“The real reason I want [students] to have this experience is to show how the theories we are talking about in the classroom that they’re reading about in text are actually being applied in a real world setting,” Dastur says. 

Aerosim Experience B737 Max Simulator instructor Alonso Rios explained to students the skills a pilot needs in addition to flying such as multitasking, effective communication, and reacting to situations. The skills relate back to the classes Dastur is teaching this semester. 

Each student spent five minutes on the aircraft, and Rios showed them the full flight experience from take off to landing the plane on an airport runway. Rios explained all functions on the control panel and their purpose. 

Before Dastur became a psychology instructor in 2000, he completed a glider license in 1985 at Princeton and a single-engine private pilot license in 1986 in Victoria. With this field trip, he wanted to show students that flying is not as complicated as it seems. 

“When you look at the cockpit, it looks super overwhelming with all its colours, switches, buttons, and dials,” Dastur says. “What you see is everything on the left is repeated on the right.” 

“Now, it’s suddenly not as complicated as it was, and so what we do is we start to decode for the students, what it is you’re looking at, and why it has been designed that way.” 

Fourth-year psychology student Ekamjot Cheema says she wanted to attend after she heard Dastur discuss it in her cognitive ergonomics class. Cheema has been on flights before, but never in the pilot’s seat, which was a unique experience for her. 

“Having to see all the controls in real life was definitely different, so that surprised me,” Cheema says. “The pilot himself was understanding, and he was ready to take the lead on things, which reduces the anxiety on my end. You could just see the view, which was really nice.” 

Cognitive ergonomics is a field of study that dives into the psychological interaction between machines and how humans interact with them to make the technology simpler. 

This flight experience is connected to her cognitive ergonomics class through understanding controls on the aircraft, if someone experiences motion sickness on a plane, and situational awareness, she says. 

“I know I don’t want to be a pilot myself, but it was nice to see a different perspective. Therefore, it’s more humbling, you feel more gratitude for pilots and what they do, especially if you’ve never been on a flight,” Cheema says. 

She hopes KPU does more field trips like this for other classes as it’s beneficial for students to get hands-on experience from the skills they learn, but also give them guidance on where they want to take their careers. 

Dastur hopes students take away a powerful, emotional experience from the flight simulator and are able to connect the dots with what they learned in their classes. 

“We talked about mistakes, accidents, and safety. We talked about human perception, fatigue and attention, [and] communication protocols. We talked about crew resource management, design displays, and controls,” Dastur says. 

“That’s what the flight simulator does. It takes all of that knowledge, all of those theories, principles, and puts them together in a way that is making a difference.”