From the cockpit into a classroom

Island-hopping in the South Pacific was not enough for Lori Brown, who moved into pilot training and then the world of academic research, including on advancing augmented and virtual reality in aviation.

How did you start out?

I started in aviation as an operational supervisor for Continental Airlines in the 1980s when a colleague invited me to take a discovery flight lesson. I knew immediately that I had found my passion and started flight training the next day. I was based in Honolulu, Hawaii, which was a beautiful place to learn to fly, with island-to-island cross-country flights with occasional silhouettes of whales below, volcanoes, and beautiful waterfalls.

Who hired you?

I began my first flying job at Micronesian Air on the island of Guam. I worked on Guam for a few years before getting based in Saipan, and continued to fly throughout the Micronesian island chain for several years before returning to the continental US to continue my career as an airline pilot. I also worked for Flight Safety International and trained international pilots, as well as pilots from several US government agencies, Wal-Mart, and the Mexican government, before joining Western Michigan University as a Joint Aviation Authority instructor for their International Pilot Training Center, instructing cadets from British Airways, the United Arab Emirates and KLM, in the classroom and the 737-400 simulator.

From trainer to professor?

I started teaching 16 years ago when I started my family, and I am currently an associate professor at Western Michigan University, College of Aviation, where I teach courses such as advanced aircraft systems, airline flight operations and aviation meteorology. In addition to teaching, I am a researcher for the US Federal Aviation Administration PEGASAS Center of Excellence, the outreach chair for the ICAO Next Generation of Aviation Professionals Program, and a member of the International Pilot Training Association council and outreach group. I am also a faculty evaluator for the American Council on Education for all the military services, reviewing military aviation curricula for college credit recommendations.

What are you researching?

I am working on several major projects, including research for the FAA NextGen Weather Technology in the Cockpit, and developing augmented and virtual reality for technically driven training subjects. The augmented and virtual reality projects include a turbofan engine and a complete interactive Bombardier CRJ200 flightdeck application for Microsoft HoloLens. I am also developing the first augmented reality textbook for aviation education.

What’s the best part of your job?

One of the greatest parts of my profession is that every day is different. I could be teaching in a classroom, researching virtual reality for aviation training or working at a military base. My job takes me outside of the university environment and allows me to work closely with industry and present my research findings at aviation conferences all over the world. Recently I have been working with China and Africa on aviation outreach projects.

What’s the most challenging part?

The most challenging part of my job is keeping students engaged. No one enjoys sitting in a lecture hall watching a boring PowerPoint. I have used this challenge to motivate me to explore new and engaging ways to teach and immerse my students. Later this year my classroom will be equipped with virtual reality headsets and Epson Moverio smart glasses. We must all look at how we will recruit, train, retain and engage the next generation to ensure that enough qualified and competent aviation professionals are available to operate, manage and maintain the future international air transport system. We can all play a part in the future of aviation by sharing our story and mentoring youth. One of the greatest parts of aviation is that there are so many paths you can take in your career.

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