Pilots achieve readiness through virtual reality training

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Taylor Hunter
  • 4FW/PA

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AFB, NC–The world of technology constantly changes and can provide endless possibilities. The Air Force is no different and has started to use one of these new technologies for the constant training that pilots require to be up to certified.

Project Fusion, also known as "Pilot Instructor Training Next" program was forged as two 12th Flying Training Wing squadrons integrated virtual-reality simulators and 360-degree video headsets into the training syllabus and has been adopted here at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Project Fusion is a virtual reality software that allows users to not only take part in lessons, but to create their own as well. With this capability, the Air Force can provide in-depth training to Airmen in duty stations that would normally have to travel to complete their education. The genesis for this technology-based learning approach began with Pilot Training Next, an undergraduate pilot training program based in Austin, Texas, that leveraged virtual and augmented reality to reimagine what the future of Air Force pilot training could look like.

“Students that get into the seat and fly the virtual environment are reacting like they would in the actual aircraft within minutes,” said Capt. Victoria “ Stagger” Beck, 334th Fighter Squadron I-course instructor.. “This ability to recognize and drive change at the operational level is a monumental step for the Air Force.”

“In line with the National Defense Strategy, the Air Force is focused on maintaining its competitive advantage,” said Kevin Wolmarans, 4th Training Squadron virtual reality program lead. “We’re making sure our pilots are capable of providing air superiority and air power for America in future conflicts. Our leaders are enabling us to find the advantage we need to ensure we can deter a peer-level adversary from fighting us, and if we have to fight, we can dominate.”

Project Fusion is an experimental program under the “Learning Next” umbrella with a focus on understanding how Airmen learn, as well as exploring and potentially prototyping a flying training environment that integrates various technologies to produce pilots in an accelerated-and learning-focused manner.

“We need to acknowledge there are new insights into how the human brain learns and processes information. There needed to be an evolution in how we tackle these tasks,” said Lt. Col. Robert Grimes. Air Combat Command 15th Detachment commander. "We refuse to accept the status quo and that refusal has driven us to a higher-level of training."

In lessons, there can be a variety of tools available to participants, which include the airframes F-35 Lightning II, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules, EC-130 Compass Call, C-5 Galaxy, B-2 Spirit, C-146A Wolfhound and the T-6 Texan II. Before the VR was implemented, notes can be hanging above a table to help familiarize pilots. Now, there could be a virtual instructor that the user can pause and rewind. From there, they can explore a variety of informational media hanging in the air around them, and even enlarge an object – like a three-dimensional heart – to the point where they can walk inside it.

“Virtual reality is the epitome of chair flying in the future,” said Capt. Allen “Cougar” Markos, 334th Fighter Squadron student pilot. “Visualizing what you’re going to see in the cockpit can be hard but for B-course students who had never been in the jet before the picture may be worth a thousand words but the virtual reality makes it like a thousand thousand words are speaking to you all at once. In the end, this allows students to gain a much higher level of mastery of the skills they need to be competent at the end of the program.”

The primary capability of the software is the ease of access for lessons to be created and taught. It allows training to be distributed across geographic boundaries in consistent formats. One of the biggest training advantages to Project Fusion that has been noted is the ability to place students in complex or dangerous situations that would otherwise be impossible to do in an actual aircraft.

“In real-life, an instructor cannot put a student in an intentionally dangerous situation and compromise flight safety, but that is not the case virtually,” said Beck. “Virtually, instructors can put students in any situation to determine if they would recognize the danger and whether or not they take the right course of action.”

The Air Force is heading in the right direction on what is possible with advancements in training.With the advancement and implementation of this type of training. It allows the 4th Fighter Wing aircrews to be at the tip of the spear and ready to respond when called upon.