Pilot Training Next begins its third iteration in January 2020. But, before moving forward, Detachment 24 officials are looking back at lessons learned from PTN version two.

Pilot Training Next
Image credit: US Air Force

The PTN program is part of Air Education and Training Command’s initiative to “reimagine” how learning is delivered to airmen.

“As we innovate, we must take stock in the lessons we’ve learned through our first two classes,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Riley, Detachment 24 commander. “We are finding ways to transform the way we learn in pilot training and doing so, we are defining our challenges, finding our successes and identifying our failures so we continue to evolve our training.”

The second iteration of PTN capitalized on lessons learned from the first class by integrating new and emerging technologies, as well as more individualized access to learning.

“Our second class demonstrated the value of emerging technology like artificial intelligence for pilot training, and PTN version three will build upon its success,” Riley said.

PTN version two began January 17, 2019, with 10 active duty Air Force officers, two Air National Guard officers, two U.S. Navy officers, one Royal Air Force officer and five active duty enlisted airmen.

Of the cohort, 14 graduated in August, with one who moved to extended training and graduated in September, and five did not complete the program.

Of those from version two, seven graduates were assigned to fighter aircrafts (four U.S. Air Force Combat Forces, two U.S. Navy, and one Royal Air Force). Three were assigned to Mobility Air Force aircrafts, three were assigned to Air Force Special Operations aircrafts, and one was assigned to a bomber aircraft. One student is awaiting assignment after completion of an undergraduate degree and completion of OTS. Throughout the class, several encouraging lessons learned emerged, including the importance of students’ early access to immersive training devices (ITD).

Prior to the class start date, PTN offered an ITD-only distance-learning program to students at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Eight students interested in joining PTN had full access to relevant learning materials and artificial intelligence-supported training.

PTN officials selected four of the eight students to join version two, and officials found upon the students’ arrival to PTN, the students possessed a much greater working knowledge of ITD functionality, T-6 basic contact and T-6 basic instruments. Two of the early access students were also the first to complete every milestone for the flying training.

“There is no doubt that there is great benefit in the use of ITDs in training,” said Lt. Col. Robert Knapp, Det 24 operations officer. “We noticed that students with early access had a rapid ability to ingest data and perform — meaning they can perform faster and improve quicker.”

In addition to early access, another key lesson learned was the value of students’ access to ITDs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in their living quarters. While the access was invaluable, the home ITDs were underutilized because of the students’ lack of time due to their on-duty training schedules.

“Unlike traditional undergraduate pilot training which can take up to a full year to complete, PTN students only have six to eight months to learn the content,” said Knapp. “This leaves little downtime so we will need to re-evaluate the need for in-home devices. Ultimately, we want to make sure we don’t lose the vital element of 24/7 access.”

Another lesson learned was that while PTN’s curriculum is executed in a student centric learning style, the need for instructor development is critical. “The instructor pilot role here is more important now than ever,” said Riley. “The individualized approach to training can expedite the learning timeline and it also creates unique scheduling challenges that our instructor pilots will need to address.”

In addition to training provided by IPs, students also took advantage of an artificial intelligence instructor tool known as VIPER, which played a vital element for the individualized and continuously accessible training environment.

“PTN provides an individualized training approach driven by student preference to accelerate learning,” Riley said. “We are graduating students based on competencies, not time. Technologies like VIPER, immersive training devices, and innovative students and instructor pilots are making it possible.”