Air Education and Training Command (AETC) is working to build a faster and smarter Air Force in partnership with multiple major commands to develop a competency-based virtual and augmented-reality (VR/AR) training capability for the aircraft maintenance and career enlisted aviator communities.

Hangars
A completed 3D scan of a F-16C Fighting Falcon is displayed on a screen, while maintainers work on an actual F-16 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Maintainers showcased routine maintenance they perform on the aircraft and the best ways to recreate this using virtual reality. Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo by airman 1st Class Christopher H. Stolze.

As part of its Integrated Technology Platform initiative, virtual training hangars are being built for the classroom and flightline with 3D Aircraft Mission Design Series environments for every airframe in AETC inventory, with robust augmented-reality capabilities and comprehensive instructor tools, with a goal to enable training anywhere and any time.

“This effort is tied to our priority to transform the way airmen learn through the aggressive and cost-effective modernization of education and training,” said Masoud Rasti, AETCs chief of force development strategy and technical adviser. “We have to be visionary and agile when it comes to training today and the intent is to apply current and emerging technology to support the warfighter, no matter where they might be, so they can operate within joint, all-domain environments.”

The objective of the ITP is to work collaboratively across AETC, as well as other MAJCOMs, to develop and execute a competency-based learning strategy and environment that utilizes current technology such as VR/AR, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, for officer and enlisted career fields.

“We are working with career field managers across multiple communities to steer the development of a viable occupational-competency model that will take us from a time-and-task-based model of the industrial age to a competency-based model for the future, digital age,” Rasti said. “The ITP will work to identify and utilize new technologies to teach to these occupational competencies while also implementing new methodologies for training that is learner-centric.”

These technologies include blended and modularized training, as well as hands-on training like the Microsoft HoloLens 2 application, Rasti said.

The vision for creating a collaborative ITP across the Air Force is also tied to efficiency in innovation.

“Another major reason for the ITP concept is we want to eliminate duplicative efforts on the virtual-reality front,” said Richard Robledo, AETC force development program analyst. “We want to bring the rest of the Air Force in on this, under one contract, to streamline the program with a simplified process so the other MAJCOMs can come in with dollars and tap into the expertise and experience of the process that has been built up over time.”

The virtual hangar and flightline, with most common aerospace ground equipment, that the contractor built are aircraft agnostic and thus can be used by all Air Force aircraft. This was a win for the Air Force. The virtual hangar and flightline were then complemented with the first virtual models for the C-5M Galaxy and C-130J Super Hercules that were created in late 2019 for the students in the Career Enlisted Aviator Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, which graduates 2,600 students annually.

“The C-5M aircraft was scanned in multiple configurations, internal and exterior, for our career enlisted aviator training,” Robledo said. “These models were used initially as the shell to build instructional, interactive courseware and other training tools.”

Once the framework was established, the idea to partner with other MAJCOMs came through the sharing of the already created virtual hangars and aircraft platform environments, which created an increased demand signal to create other individual and advanced 3D aspects of aircraft to meet MAJCOM-specific needs.

The partnership with other MAJCOMs started with Air Mobility Command.

“We started with both force development and innovation funding to get the program started,” Rasti said. “(AMC) jumped in and contributed initially, and now we are working with Air Combat Command, Air Force Reserve Command, and, soon, Air Force Special Operations Command.”

The push to include the AR capability in addition to the virtual environment was driven by a learner-centric, mission-focused, and competency-based approach to force development that is the heart of the force development mission.

“By using the interactive courseware, airmen can learn more about individual problems by using the technology,” Rasti said. “The augmented-reality environment really adds a dimension to the training that hasn’t existed before.”

Rasti noted how vital the work done during the contracting and acquisition process, worked in conjunction with the Air Force Institute of Technology, has been.

The ITP process also has the capability to spread to other Air Force career fields and training pipelines.

“We built this program with the career enlisted aviators, first and foremost, in mind, and aircraft maintenance was quickly paired with this effort, as we were working with Lt. Col. Sean Goode and his Maintenance Next team, and our headquarters AETC competencies division was working with the 21A Maintenance officer and 2A Enlisted Aircraft Maintenance career field managers to move those groupings of Air Force Specialty Codes to an occupational competency model,” Rasti said. “The capabilities and processes we are utilizing can be applied to almost any Air Force Specialty Code. We can apply this process to any career field as long as we know their requirements and have the funding source to create it.”