Virtual training gives real results in the first course of the crew chief

Air Education and Training Command is becoming the digital realm to teach maintainers about their aircraft in a new program that is based on virtual reality.

Named “Transformation of Technical Training” or T3, the effort seeks to attract maintenance students in new ways, without the typical limitations of issues such as aircraft availability. Ultimately, it could help speed up the time it takes to eliminate maintainers and give them the experience they need to step up to the middle and upper levels more quickly.

Sheppard will host two full-fledged VR courses on crew chief basics and logistics planning next year, the Air Force said.

“Students come out on the line more capable and more comfortable in their role,” said Major Jesse Johnson, who oversees T3 as commander of an AETC detachment at San Antonio, Texas Joint Base. “I definitely see it as a force multiplier.”

The T3 initiative was launched over two months during the summer of 2020 as part of previous “Maintenance Next” experiments focused on AETC technology. Twenty-nine students in the core crew course at Air Force Base in Sheppard, Texas, used VR headsets to examine tools, repair simulated planes, and learn other trade tricks.

The Air Force spent between $ 5,000 and $ 6,000 for every 30 virtual reality gaming systems for the initial pilot program. As technology has improved, cheaper and smaller, the service has been reduced to headphones like Facebook’s Oculus models or HTC’s Vive models to several hundred dollars each.

To test the technology, students completed the usual three-week course in the classroom and then tested the VR version of the class for two weeks while waiting to move on to the next base. It took students about half the time to learn the same basics in the digital course compared to the regular version.

Their scores were comparable between the two methods, the Air Force said.

“Each student has their own classroom in mind. This allows all students to see their own plane and everyone can work on that plane for themselves, “explains Tech. Sergeant Kyle Ingram, a supervising instructor in the 362nd Aircraft Training Squadron Sheppard told reporters Tuesday.

Students can see their instructors inside the headphones and ask for help outside the virtual environment. The approach also avoids unnecessary damage to the aircraft caused by inexperienced maintainers who don’t know what they’re doing, Ingram said.

Earlier this summer, the team began testing artificially intelligent characters who can answer students ’questions and classify their work within headphones. These avatars are based on interviews with technical sergeants or master sergeants who have gained craft-level experience in the field, possibly freeing their real-life counterparts from working in aircraft.

The Air Force withdrew criticism that virtual training will not work as well as hands-on training because it fails to build the same type of muscle memory. Digital repetition of an advanced task reinforces an aviator’s understanding and skill in real-world work, Johnson said.

“This will help the quality of the training we offer students, getting them more preparation for the flight line before they get to the flight line,” Ingram added.

First-class aviator Donald Brudnowski, head of the crew of the 55th Generation Fighter Squadron, conducts a pre-flight inspection of an F-16 viper at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, in July 2020. The newly reorganized 55th FGS broke its own record of 1757 outings without cancellation due to maintenance issues.  (First class aviator Destani Matheny / Air Force)

Future improvements will provide a way to track a student’s degree of learning and what they have achieved, Johnson said. He hopes that over time the data can be used to further personalize the education of aviators based on their learning style and where they fall short.

While team advocates want to spread virtual reality tools throughout the service (which has begun to use them in limited cases for pilot training), they recognize that there are obstacles that could take years to erase. -se.

The challenges range from high technology to everyday life: even for commercially manufactured hardware and software that are ready to buy, aviators would still need wireless internet access at the grassroots, widespread enough and enough fast to support virtual reality images. Air Force facilities also need more electrical outlets to connect the systems, Johnson added.

“Our infrastructure is not built to manage it and we haven’t trained people so they can create adaptive and immersive content,” he said. “I think we could come up with a fully capable and available system that allows students to do that in the next two years.”

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