Old school meets new school: Flight deck Ouija boards go digital

June 15, 2017, Office of Naval Research
Lt. Timothy Sullivan, assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), tries out the Office of Naval Research TechSolutions-sponsored Deployable Ship Integration Multitouch System (DSIMS) located in the Carrier Analysis Lab at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst during pre-deployment training. DSIMS is a mobile software package that features a digital, touchscreen image of a ship's flight deck or hangar bay and enables aircraft handlers using a laptop or LCD screen to adjust various configurations from anywhere on the ship, plan operations before deployment and share that information with other DSIMS users. Credit: John F. Williams

The flight decks of aviation-capable vessels like aircraft carriers bustle with noise and danger—screaming jets, snapping steel cables and powerful tractors and forklifts. Planning and orchestrating this high-octane dance requires precision and accuracy from those responsible for directing deck traffic.

To make the jobs of aircraft handlers easier, the Office of Naval Research's (ONR) TechSolutions program has sponsored the development of the Deployable Ship Integration Multitouch System—DSIMS, for short.

DSIMS is a mobile software package that features a digital, touchscreen image of a ship's or hangar bay, and can be used on a laptop or desktop computer. It enables aircraft handlers to change deck configurations anywhere on the ship, plan operations before deployment, and share information digitally with other DSIMS users for improved collaboration.

"This interactive, computerized system is a leap forward for naval aviation," said ONR Command Master Chief Matt Matteson. "It's a fairly straightforward technological solution that brings with it tremendous functionality and saves time."

To track the movements of aircraft and equipment on the flight deck, handlers currently use a tool informally called a "Ouija board"—a waist-high, six-feet-long physical replica of the deck. Located in the ship's flight deck control center, the board is covered with toy-like plastic models of aircraft, each marked with colored thumbtacks to designate maintenance, fuel or flight status.

The Ouija board's design has barely changed since World War II. Despite its effectiveness, however, it does have limitations. For example, if aircraft handlers need to plan for upcoming or unexpected scenarios—bad weather or a surprise VIP visit—they must do so while underway, and change the Ouija board back to its original layout after completing the planning session.

By contrast, DSIMS can help plan such situations months before a ship leaves port. When playing out various flight deck situations—called "evolutions"—on the DSIMS touchscreen, participants can use their fingertips or a computer mouse to move around digital aircraft, to show which aircraft need to be in which location and where crates and other equipment should be positioned.

There also are special screen modules denoting aircraft fueling needs, maintenance requests and availability for flight. Each evolution can be saved and recalled during operations, or used for briefings and training.

"DSIMS allows for planning of future evolutions," said Tim Zieser, an engineer at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Lakehurst, New Jersey. "It also enables handling officers to create briefs that can be used to inform the chain of command, and train their people before a complex evolution, so everyone is on the same page."

Zieser recently demonstrated DSIMS at Lakehurst's Carrier Analysis Lab for Sailors and Marines from the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), before the amphibious assault ship deployed.

"The technology is fantastic," said Lt. Timothy Sullivan, stationed aboard the Iwo Jima. "It lets us make time-critical decisions today, so we don't have to months from now, over the Ouija board on the ship. It will save us man hours down the road as we execute the mission."

DSIMS originated in 2016, when a request from Commander, Naval Air Forces, was sent to ONR's TechSolutions program for a digital, mobile version of the Ouija board. TechSolutions is ONR's rapid-response science and technology program that develops prototype technologies to address problems voiced by Sailors and Marines, usually within 12-18 months.

Later this year, TechSolutions will deliver a prototype DSIMS for testing and evaluation on several ships, including the Iwo Jima. Zieser and his team hope to see the system issued throughout the fleet next year.

Explore further: Researchers examine new approaches for aircraft operations aboard carriers

Related Stories

Clearing the decks

August 3, 2011

On the deck of an aircraft carrier, where up to 60 aircraft are crammed into 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares), real estate is at a premium. While aircraft directors wave fighter jets out of the landing strip, maintenance crews work ...

ONR navigation and tracking mobile app extended for sea

September 15, 2011

Deployed Sailors and Marines on board aircraft carriers will be able to use smart phones to navigate, locate and track anyone on the ship in real time, Office of Naval Research (ONR) officials announced Sept. 15.

Recommended for you

Printing microelectrode array sensors on gummi candy

June 22, 2018

Microelectrodes can be used for direct measurement of electrical signals in the brain or heart. These applications require soft materials, however. With existing methods, attaching electrodes to such materials poses significant ...

EU copyright law passes key hurdle

June 20, 2018

A highly disputed European copyright law that could force online platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay for links to news content passed a key hurdle in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 16, 2017
OMG, aren't they afraid of calling something that impornant an ouija board??? especially after all those creepy ouija stories you here everywhere? for me the only safe ouija board is an online one ouijagame.redwerk.com

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.