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Bringing technology to today’s Air Force

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “It’s not science fiction, it’s what we do every day” was a recruitment campaign that ran in 2010 for the Air Force. The unfortunate truth to those in uniform was that, in the Air Force, we have, and still have, a technology gap in the way we do business.

One local example of this is the KC-10 Formal Training Unit. In an effort to save on development costs when bringing the weapon system online, the Air Force decided to acquire commercial DC-10 flight manuals and modify them for the KC-10. Nearly 50 years later, students are still using these manuals in the FTU today. Not very “science fiction” if you ask a student going through training. Furthermore, the training syllabus for pilots has relatively remained the same, though techniques in instruction have changed over the years.

The spark of base-level innovation was born at Travis Air Force Base. Capitalizing on this culture, members of the FTU and the Phoenix Spark innovation office collaborated on a project to utilize virtual reality for training. VR is a three-dimensional representation of the environment around you. To make quick gains, the FTU purchased 360-degree cameras to record various flight situations. The videos undergo a brief production and are then moved into a video training series repository for students to review at their leisure. The VTS saves students and instructors time by introducing concepts and scenarios before a student is expected to perform these in the KC-10.

VR training within industry is not new. Companies have been using VR to create immersive experiences to allow their employees to try things they would not necessarily do in a real world scenario. In addition to taking more risk, a virtual environment provides students with an alternate means to learn, accelerating results and allowing them to use the skills they need to perform their jobs. The next leap in innovative training is incorporating augmented reality. Through AR, a user can see the real-world environment around them with an overlay of instruction through an AR device. This can include checklist items for a first time student performing a task or allow a senior technician to provide remote assistance to a less experienced technician.

Though we may be adopting technology that is fielded, proven and not new to industry, the least we can do is provide our Airmen a means to bring yesterday’s technology to the Air Force today.