Lt. Cmdr. Eric Harrington shows senior members of Vietnam’s military and civilian leadership and members of the
Vietnamese media the “Ouija Board” in the flight deck control area aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington
during an Aug. 13 tour. The status of the planes’ mechanical condition, fuel and armaments can be reflected by symbols
placed on the aircraft models.
the aircraft models. That display is called the “Ouija
Board,” after a century-old soothsayer’s device.
The handler is working from a prepared flight operations plan, frequently changed by telephone instructions from the air operations officer, or air boss, working in a windowed office several decks higher in the
When something disrupts the plan, such as an aircraft approaching with an emergency, a plane unable to
make a scheduled flight, or a malfunction of a catapult,
elevator, refueling station or some other vital piece of
flight deck equipment, the handler must make rapid
decisions from a variety of often difficult options,
based mainly on his personal experience.
ONR hopes to improve that process with an experiment, called the Deck operations Course of Action
Planner (DCAP), being conducted at MIT.
DCAP is a software-aided system intended to give the
handler and his crew enhanced situational awareness,
faster communications and automated planning tools to
respond to emergencies or major changes in conditions,
said Marc Steinberg, the ONR program officer.
“We’re trying to move away from the Ouija Board to
a visual system that provides a timeline on what’s going
on on the carrier and [with the] equipment, and that
allows some decision tools as things change on the deck
and you need to reschedule what’s going on,” he said.
“For example, if you have a failure, how do you get an
aircraft down, how do you rearrange things on the deck?
“We’ve been looking at advanced planning tools that
can deal with a lot of uncertainty,” Steinberg said.
Because there is a “risky aspect” of trying to learn the
users’ preferences, “initially we see this used as a planning aid, where a person still is making all the decisions,
but [DCAP is] providing them with some options …
plans already generated for a situation that has come up.”
MIT conducted a test of DCAP in June, using small,
remotely controlled vehicles to simulate aircraft on a
scaled model of a carrier deck. The device also displays
priorities, schedule information, details on aircraft status, and usage of the catapults and the landing area, to
aid in the decision-making process.
And looking ahead to when there are autonomous
systems on the flight deck, they are examining “how