Brig. Gen. James R. Sears Jr, director of plans, programs, and requirements for Headquarters Air Education Training Command congratulates Ensign Charles Hill at his Pilot Training Next graduation on Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Hill and Ensign Seth Murphy-Sweet are the first two Navy students to go through the new Air Force pilot training program. All image credits: US Navy
The first two student naval aviators graduated from the U.S. Air Force’s Pilot Training Next (PTN) program at Randolph Air Force Base (AFB) just outside of San Antonio.
The PTN program is a course of instruction designed to train military pilots at a lower cost, in a shorter amount of time, and with a higher level of proficiency, leveraging emerging technologies to create a dynamic training environment.
The PTN program individualizes training, adjusting to each student pilot’s strengths and weaknesses. It integrates virtual reality (VR), advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI), and immersive training devices (ITD) with traditional methods of learning.
“The most appealing part of this program is we step away from the common denominator or one-size-fits-all training that has to be done on a certain timeline,” Det. 24 Commander U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Riley said. “With PTN we have been able to focus more on competencies and the focus of the individual student. We tailor the training to you, and that is a very different mindset shift and that is what I am most excited about.”
Navy instructors selected Ensigns Charles Hills and Seth Murphy-Sweet for the PTN program in lieu of the standard Navy Primary Flight Training phase. This joint training effort is a step toward integrating emerging technologies into Navy’s flight training curriculum. Now Hill and Murphy-Sweet are ready to move forward to the advanced stage of flight training with the Navy’s Training Air Wing 2 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas.
“I think a big thing with this program was the ability to utilize the VR, get the experience and pacing down for each flight realtime,” Hill said. “This benefited all the students – being able to chair fly while being able to see the whole flight rather than to have to use your imagination. This helped in getting the motor skills while we were able test it out in VR and see how the exact input corresponds to a correct output.”
The relatively new program is being improved with each iteration and allows a more tailored approach to learning in comparison to traditional flight training from the instructor’s perspective. Instructors use a collaborative learning environment to evaluate and analyze students and subsequently make corrections and improvements.
PTN First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) U.S. Air Force Capt. Jake Pothula shared his views on just how the program differs from the traditional syllabus:
“I went through traditional training,” he said. “The biggest difference with the PTN program is the fact that we aren’t tied to a very rigid, unforgiving syllabus, so students have the ability to choose their own training or have it be molded by instructor pilots who have the students’ individual best interest in mind. In traditional Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) you get more flying hours, but PTN students get a lot more simulator time. The students probably get three times as many hours in the sim than a traditional UPT student would. It’s something they could do at their own pace and choose what they want to do. I would say that these students have a very different set of skills. They excel at understanding their place in a larger mission and understanding what their aircraft is going to do especially in the cases of large field or large force exercises. I feel they definitely have a better grasp on more abstract [concepts] such as mission management.”
Integrating new technologies such as ITDs allows students to gain experience using real-world scenarios. Students can not only fly the strict patterns and procedures they learn from their books, but also integrate air traffic control decondition as well as other aircraft.
“I think the unique and most exciting aspect with where PTN is going is the partnership with the Navy and Air Force,” Riley said. “With this partnership the Navy has loaned us eight T-6B Texan II aircraft. The manufacturer modified the avionics to what we call the T-6B plus, which has software specifically built for the PTN program mission.”
Adding Navy instructors and students to the PTN program brings a unique perspective since training in the T-6B Texan II is new to the Air Force. VR simulators add a new and exciting element to the PTN program and draws parallels to the gaming industry, which could help attract new accessions.